Aussie PM snubs Rudd's bid for top UN post

Mr Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has been quietly lobbying world leaders for support to succeed Mr Ban as UN secretary-general. But he has had run-ins with former Cabinet colleagues and Labor MPs.
Mr Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has been quietly lobbying world leaders for support to succeed Mr Ban as UN secretary-general. But he has had run-ins with former Cabinet colleagues and Labor MPs.PHOTO: REUTERS

Critics call Turnbull's decision churlish, but the ex-PM is known to be divisive in Australia

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday refused to back a bid by his predecessor Kevin Rudd to become United Nations secretary-general in a controversial move that was condemned as churlish and short-sighted.

He overruled Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who had backed Mr Rudd, saying he believed the former Labor leader was "not well suited" for the job.

"This is no disparagement of Mr Rudd," Mr Turnbull said. "When the Australian government nominates a person for a job, particularly an international job like this, the threshold question is, Do we believe the person, the nominee, the would-be nominee is well suited for that position? My judgment is that Mr Rudd is not..."

Mr Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has been quietly lobbying world leaders for support of his long-held ambition to succeed Mr Ban Ki Moon, whose second term ends later this year.

Despite Mr Rudd's strong interest and expertise in foreign policy, he has proven a divisive figure in Australia.

He was ousted by his party in 2010 - before briefly returning as leader in 2013 - and has been heavily criticised by some former Cabinet colleagues and Labor MPs, who have publicly described him as a psychopath, a micro-manager and a control freak.

NOT RIGHT FOR THE JOB

When the Australian government nominates a person for a job, particularly an international job like this, the threshold question is, 'Do we believe the person, the nominee, the would-be nominee, is well suited for that position? My judgment is that Mr Rudd is not.

MR MALCOLM TURNBULL, on his decision to reject Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd yesterday expressed his disappointment at Mr Turnbull's decision via a statement on social media, saying it was a "pity" that the government had not given him the opportunity to join the 12 other current candidates for the role.

Last night, he released three private letters which he sent to Mr Turnbull in April, May and this month, in which he claimed that Mr Turnbull had personally pledged to back him on several occasions.

The letters could add to the furore as they suggest that Mr Turnbull had initially offered support.

Mr Rudd said in his statement yesterday that the UN position would have marked the first time the international body had an Australian candidate for secretary-general, adding that "it would have reflected well on what our nation can offer to the world".

Mr Turnbull's ruling Liberal-National coalition was split over whether to support Mr Rudd's candidacy. A majority of the Cabinet reportedly opposed Mr Rudd.

The Labor opposition said yesterday the refusal to endorse Mr Rudd was "small-minded", noting that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key from the National Party has backed former Labour leader Helen Clark for the role.

Most commentators criticised the decision to thwart Mr Rudd as a missed opportunity, noting that many candidates are former senior politicians who carry domestic political baggage.

Despite the setback for Mr Rudd and the uncharitable show of partisanship by the ruling coalition, there was no guarantee that he would have ended up with the coveted position.

The front runner is former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres, but there is also reportedly a push to appoint the first woman or the first Eastern European. The position is, by convention, rotated around regions of the world, suggesting an Eastern European is due.

The Security Council will consider nominated candidates and then present a recommendation to the General Assembly. The five permanent council member nations -  the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France - can veto the nominee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie PM snubs Rudd's bid for top UN post'. Print Edition | Subscribe