Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 12:16 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 12:16 | SYDNEY

Gillard big challenges


Michael Fullilove


2 July 2010 07:56

In the AFR yesterday (the original version of my op-ed is here), I argued that Kevin Rudd's foreign policy was generally impressive, given the length of his tenure in the office of prime minister. Rudd committed his fair share of sins, but he also had a good log of achievements, in particular the role he played in the G20's upgrade and the establishment of a strong alliance relationship in a more competitive environment than has existed in years.

There were process problems, but these were also the flipside of his vast energy and ambition to do good things. When compared with the first-term foreign-policy performances of other prime ministers such as Bob Hawke and John Howard, Rudd can be proud of his record.

We know little about Julia Gillard's views on foreign policy, but she is likely to retain the government's overall foreign policy template. National interests remain constant; more importantly, Gillard perceives national interests through the same Labor lens as Rudd. In my AFR op-ed, I hazard a few guesses at the approach she'll take and where she'll differ from her predecessor.

What are her biggest foreign policy challenges? She must:

  • Articulate her own foreign policy vision and renovate the foreign policy processes for achieving it.
  • Manage the Afghanistan commitment. As I argued on PM last night, safeguarding national security and looking after Australian forces in the field are among the highest demands on any Australian prime minister. Gillard will be wary about the declining public support for and increasing Australian casualties in the Afghanistan war; on the other hand, it is a war fought for honourable ends, beside our allies, with the authorisation of the UN and the support of the international community, in which the consequences of failure would be severe. I don't expect big changes in our posture any time soon. (Gillard's position is made easier by Tony Abbott's laudable support for the Australian commitment. Abbott might have given the government a lot of trouble over Afghanistan.)
  • Find common ground with Obama and develop her own alliance management approach. This can be tricky for Labor prime ministers, but Rudd pulled it off well.
  • Get around Asia. Gillard needs to introduce herself to the leaders of China, Japan and Indonesia (she already knows Manmohan Singh of India) and develop realistic relationships with them.

If the government is re-elected, the identity of Gillard's foreign minister will be very important in all this. We shouldn't read too much into the transitional arrangements announced recently, by which Stephen Smith inherits trade as well as foreign affairs. Smith's promotion clearly indicates that Gillard holds him in high regard; on the other hand, there is a strong case for giving the job to Rudd, given his background and credentials and his status as an ousted leader. If she wins, Gillard's decision will likely depend on the kind of foreign policy role she intends to play as prime minister, and on her relationship with Rudd.

Image courtesy of the Prime Minister's Office.