Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:31 | SYDNEY
Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:31 | SYDNEY

A third view of the Rudd speech


Allan Gyngell

27 March 2008 14:23

All foreign policy speeches by Prime Ministers have a domestic and an international audience, but this one seemed more than usually directed to the local punters. At the speech’s core was a solid justification for his overseas trip and for his government’s interest in foreign policy generally. Perhaps the PM anticipated the sort of horror tabloid headline the Daily Telegraph delivered him this morning: 'Rudd’s 17 day overseas trip a bitter pill for the ill'.

The Prime Minister argued that the achievement of his domestic agenda requires international engagement because there is no longer any useful distinction between the domestic and the international – that 'acting nationally now requires acting internationally'. All true of course. This interaction, he argued, requires us to use 'creative middle power diplomacy', a term which I’m afraid is going to grate. I’m just not convinced by the argument that creative middle power diplomacy is any different qualitatively (as opposed to the resources that can be brought to bear) from creative great power or small power diplomacy. Masters students across Australia are no doubt researching theses on this point now.

It is here, though, that Rudd set out the greatest difference between his government from the Coalition: 'Australia’s voice has been too quiet, too long across the various councils of the world'.  He called for a more engaged Australian diplomacy across a wide range of regional and global institutions. Sam has a point when he asks what this might mean in practice. The only examples given were the existing ones of Kyoto, East Timor (which was surely straight out of the Howard playbook) and the South Pacific. Nevertheless, Rudd had laid down an ambitious marker for his government here. Watch the space, I guess.

We then segued into an account of the world’s current economic difficulties:  'it is the Government’s responsibility to influence international decision makers as we prepare the Australian economy for the possible turbulence that lies ahead'. I don’t want to be unfair but paras of this looked as if they were drawn straight from Treasury briefings. Partly, the speech seemed to argue that Australia’s intrinsic economic strengths would enable us to sail through this well, but partly it seemed designed to underline the grimness of the challenges. On what we might do about this besides arguing our case to the financial markets of New York and London, he made a commitment to pursuing 'our overriding interest in greater openness in global markets',  including getting a good outcome on Doha. I hope he gets to make this point to the US presidential aspirants.

For overseas diplomats scrutinising the text, there were some useful lines for the cables back to headquarters. The Americans got a firm statement that 'the US continues to be an overwhelming force for good in the world', and the apprehensive Japanese could tell Tokyo that that Japan’s importance to Australia was noted a paragraph ahead of the discussion about China. 

On the trade front, Labor’s pre-election suspicion of free trade agreements seems to have been smoothed over. Kevin Rudd endorsed the importance of both the Japan and the China FTAs.

The best of the speech was in the unscripted introduction, in which the Prime Minister spoke wittily and self-deprecatingly about the perils of learning foreign languages. Kevin Rudd showed here that he has the capacity to be an impressive advocate for Australia in the meetings ahead of him.