06 August 2016
by Paul Karp

Kevin Rudd says Malcolm Turnbull's rejection of UN bid a 'monstrous intrusion'

Former PM says Julie Bishop championed compromise for cabinet to decide on bid to be secretary general of United Nations

Kevin Rudd has given an account of his bid to become the UN secretary general, heaping praise on the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, for championing a compromise for cabinet to consider the bid after the prime minister withdrew his support.
Rudd said that Bishop gave him assurances Malcolm Turnbull supported a plan to have cabinet decide his nomination for UN secretary general after the election, despite Turnbull telling Rudd he had no support on 1 May.

Rudd also warned the handling of the nomination would diminish Turnbull’s standing because the international community would see it as a “monstrous intrusion” of domestic politics into the process.

In the interview, Rudd said he respected the right of the prime minister to make the decision to reject his bid but he did not respect the fact he had pursued the nomination in good faith only to have that good faith “dishonoured and trust broken”.

On Friday last week Rudd released a number of letters he sent Turnbull documenting his account that Turnbull had supported his bid before a phone call on 1 May, in which the prime minister reneged on that support.

Senior government players have contested a claim that Turnbull gave Rudd an explicit undertaking of support during a meeting in December 2015 but Turnbull has not denied he encouraged the bid before May.

According to Rudd, Turnbull told him in a phone call on 1 May that if he took the bid to cabinet it would be defeated. Rudd said he challenged Turnbull to take it to cabinet immediately and warned that, if defeated, he would go public and defend his actions in campaigning for the job, which would have revealed Rudd’s account Turnbull had encouraged him.

Rudd said that after the call Bishop played the role of conciliator and made a “remarkable proposal” for cabinet to consider the nomination after the election and assured him the compromise had Turnbull’s “genuine support”.

As a result, Rudd continued his global campaign for the UN job despite Turnbull telling him on 1 May his candidacy was not supported.

Bishop wrote a cabinet submission knowing the prime minister had some reservations about Rudd but she proceeded, with consultation, in the expectation that he would follow the bipartisan practice of elevating former prime ministers to international roles.

Rudd criticised Turnbull’s eventual decision not to support him, saying it was “no small thing” for the prime minister to say his predecessor was unsuitable.

“I think, though, in the counsels of the world, that will reflect poorly on him,” he said. “I’m no perfect candidate. I’ve got skills, I’ve got background, I’ve got experience. So do a lot of other candidates.

“But what the international community finds difficult to understand is when you have such a monstrous intrusion of domestic politics so as to prevent one of your own from actually competing on the international stage.”

By contrast, Rudd praised Bishop for her professionalism and consistency throughout.

“If at any stage foreign minister Bishop had reached a judgment that the candidature was no longer capable of being supported in Australia, I know her well enough to know she would simply have told me in black and white,” he said.

On 3AW on Friday, Turnbull said Rudd knew at all times it was a matter for the cabinet and there was no guarantee he would be nominated.

“[Rudd] was certainly told in absolutely unequivocal terms in May, and he doesn’t deny this, that my estimation was if it went to the cabinet he would not be supported and I told him why.”

Asked about Rudd’s account of the compromise devised by Bishop, Turnbull said: “I am not going to get into a debate about Kevin Rudd and his various assertions.

“The decision was clear and the decision was the correct one.”

Turnbull said he would not dispute Rudd’s account that he cited Rudd’s interpersonal skills and temperament as the reason for the decision.

Senior cabinet minister Christopher Pyne told Channel Nine’s Today program cabinet opposed Rudd “mostly because of the character reference given to him by the Labor party over a very long period of time and his behaviour since just confirms why he is not suitable”.

“Everyone needs to move on, including Kevin,” he said.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said on Friday he could understand that Rudd was frustrated because “he appears that he thought he had a deal, an agreement with Mr Turnbull”.

“Clearly there’s been some almighty upheaval and division in the Liberal party and now Mr Turnbull’s had to change his position,” Shorten said.

“If Mr Turnbull can do a deal with someone and then has to come back and say sorry, I couldn’t convince all my rightwing sort of minders to do it, well what sort of stability does that promise us on all the other big issues in Australia?”