News & Media
Kevin Rudd not out of UN running yet

Last Updated:2016-08-05

Dr Geoff Raby had an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to talk about Kevin Rudd's chances for the United Nations (UN) general secretary position after Malcolm Turnbull refused to endorse him.


Click here to listen to the full interview on ABC.


ELEANOR HALL: Now to another potential problem for the Prime Minister; a former Australian ambassador to China is predicting that Kevin Rudd's bid for the top UN job is far from over.


Geoff Raby, who served as the Australian ambassador under the Rudd and Gillard governments, says Malcolm Turnbull has only bought himself more political trouble by not backing the former Labor prime minister's bid to become secretary general.


He joined me from Beijing this morning to explain why.


Dr Raby, you've worked with Kevin Rudd. How do you think he's likely to be taking the rejection from the Australian prime minister over this UN bid?
GEOFF RABY: Kevin is someone that would never say never and he certainly wouldn't take this as the end of the matter. He would be working after his next steps and how to go forward from here.


ELEANOR HALL: Should Malcolm Turnbull now be watching his back?


GEOFF RABY: There's nothing practically that Kevin can do to Malcolm. I mean he's proudly put out his emails of exchange in correspondence. I think the problem is that the Prime Minister's put himself into this position.


Rudd I doubt would say, "Okay, it's all over and I'm just withdrawing". I think he would have had conversations already with senior members of the recruitment team in the US and would be planning his next steps.


ELEANOR HALL: You don't see Kevin Rudd taking no for an answer?


GEOFF RABY: I don't see that in his character. But it's a position the Prime Minister's gone and put himself into is the problem that's being created for the Prime Minister.


ELEANOR HALL: So Mr Rudd needs the backing of the Australian Government to go forward with his campaign to be secretary-general. But you don't think this is the end of the matter?


GEOFF RABY: No, and the first test will be in September at the UN general assembly, whether they resolve the issue by then. Now that's the notional date to appoint the secretary-general.


But these contests usually miss deadline after deadline, and the result will be a negotiated result ultimately between the permanent five members of the Security Council and great power in politics come into play at these times.


So it's not resolved and the US can certainly drag it out, it may well decide to drag it out, then I would think that a newly-elected president Clinton would very much want to put her stamp on this position.


ELEANOR HALL: Why would a president Clinton want Kevin Rudd as secretary-general of the UN?


GEOFF RABY: Well, I think that he's established a very close personal relationship with her over many years. I think that she will be looking to her presidency and thinking that one of the biggest challenges she will have to manage is China.


I know that in Washington they highly value Kevin's views on China. He's been involved in inside briefings of the Obama administration on China. Henry Kissinger strongly supports him. He came out publicly in support of Rudd.


That's a very powerful group of people around senior policy-making in the foreign affairs field in the United States, strongly aligned to Kevin.
ELEANOR HALL: So take us through this process of the key powers having a veto. Some countries' candidates won't get a look in regardless of their personal qualities because of the veto power that the five major powers have?


GEOFF RABY: Yeah, but the five powers, each one will not want to be publicly out there vetoing. The conversations will take place behind closed doors, but there will emerge an understanding that some candidates will be unacceptable, not because, as you say, of their personal qualities, but because of power politics.


ELEANOR HALL: Would Kevin Rudd have faced a veto anyways, say from China? I mean, you've been ambassador in China when there was some ill feeling towards Mr Rudd.


GEOFF RABY: Yes, I think Kevin's done a great job in building bridges and re-establishing himself back here, I'm speaking today from Beijing. My sense of people I've spoken to here is that although they may not be hugely enthusiastic about Kevin per se, they will not be an obstacle or block him.
ELEANOR HALL: How deep was the rift? And how's he managed to overcome it?


GEOFF RABY: Well, interesting that, I think one of the biggest issues came up with the WikiLeaks when he was in conversation with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, saying to her that, "Well, we have to engage China in international community, but if all else fails we will always have the military option."


So it shows Rudd and Clinton are very much on the same page.


ELEANOR HALL: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that he decided against supporting Mr Rudd because he concluded that he was 'not qualified' for the job. Do you think Mr Rudd would have been a suitable candidate to run the United Nations?


GEOFF RABY: Oh look, that's really not my call, if you like.


ELEANOR HALL: Well you know him well. You've worked with him.


GEOFF RABY: Yes, Prime Minister has made his judgement. I was ambassador under Kevin Rudd, but I think the question of suitability is not really I think one that's relevant in this big geopolitical game.


Ultimately it will come down to what price the major powers want to pay for either one of their candidates or the bloc candidates.


ELEANOR HALL: If it is a big political game as you say, do you think it's surprising that the Australian Prime Minister would hobble the Australian candidate? Is it a mistake?


GEOFF RABY: Well, what the Australian Prime Minister could have done, or should have done, is to have made an assessment of what the candidate's chances are. And if he reports back our assessment of the standing internationally is that he won't get up and we won't as a government put resources into advancing the campaign.


However, if there was a view for example as Washington was saying to Canberra, "Oh, I think there's a strong support for Rudd coming out of Washington", then it's not very wise at this early stage to be making a call such as the Prime Minister did.


ELEANOR HALL: And were you surprised that even if he didn't want to back him, Mr Turnbull didn't come up with a more diplomatic way of letting Mr Rudd down?


GEOFF RABY: It's totally reasonable to form a judgement on the chances of a candidate. I don't think pining on suitability is wise, particularly for the Prime Minister.


ELEANOR HALL: So, how do you see Malcolm Turnbull responding now then to any pressure that may come from Hillary Clinton if, as you suggest, she does want Mr Rudd to be in the running?


GEOFF RABY: I think the Prime Minister, if that were to happen, I think the Prime Minister would be in an extremely invidious position. Rarely have we seen the Prime Minister be prepared to say no to the US in these circumstances.


And his Cabinet, particularly those members of Cabinet that are opposed to Rudd, would be very keen to support the United States candidate. So the Prime Minister would really be, would really put himself into a jam in the way he's gone about managing this issue.


ELEANOR HALL: So you think that he would have to back-flip and support Kevin Rudd?


GEOFF RABY: No. He doesn't have to, but I think it's going to be very hard not to.


ELEANOR HALL: Geoff Raby, thanks so much for speaking to us.


GEOFF RABY: My pleasure, Eleanor.


ELEANOR HALL: That's former Australian ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, speaking to me from Beijing. And you can listen to the full interview with him on our website.