November 2

The Hon. Walter Mitty: Prime Minister of Australia

It seems that Canberra based foreign diplomats have been in a flurry warning their governments to be very careful about what they say to Kevin Rudd.

"If when you answer the phone you hear 'Kevin Rudd calling', be careful, be very careful," they are saying. " Make sure some one reliable is listening."

This is adding to concern among constitutionalists that they may have too readily believed  his assurance that he will not move to change the Constitution  in his first term.

Can we trust him with our constitutional system? He presented himself as a conservative diplomat, perhaps too engrossed in process not to make hurried and ill thought out decisions.

But as we relate below, even his diplomatic expertise is now seriously in question, which must be causing angst for the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith.

It is as if Australians had chosen the Hon. Walter Mitty as their Prime Minister.

But let us first go back a little. Having promised not to raise the republic issue (that is a politicians’ republic) in the first term, this emerged as the principal item on the agenda of the 2020 Summit.

Attendance at the Summit was rigged as if we were living in some tinpot dictatorship, and it was then so mismanaged that a leading republican likened it to a Mad Hatters Tea Party.

Castigated as obsessed with process and unable to come to decisions, (except those which have mainly thespian effect) he has recently been making some truly breathtaking decisions.

Half the surplus is to be spent to stimulate the economy without apparently there being any modelling as to whether it will achieve the desired effect.

Then on 12 October, the government seriously bungled  the giving of an unlimited  guarantee for all deposits in Australian banks. One suggestion is that the PM expected the G7 to do something that weekend and had to be “ahead of the curve”.

There was also a likely time limit for making a decision at the highly publicised Sunday meeting. As John Stone suggested on 2GB, this would have been to allow Mr Rudd to appear on the evening TV news with a dramatic story.

 

The fact is the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, Lindsay Tanner, and other senior ministers (with the Treasurer Wayne Swan on the phone from Washington) actually came to their decision without written advice or modelling, and in the “inexplicable absence”, as John Stone so pithily put it, of the Governor of the very institution which has statutory responsibility for monetary policy, the Reserve Bank.

The government has been backtracking ever since. The proposal to have the funds turn themselves into banks, with $81 million to the bureaucracy to facilitate this seems doomed to failure.

 The head of Westpac has called on the government to reduce the guarantee to $100,000. This is of course the amount the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull,   originally proposed.

….undiplomatic leaking…

Then we had the unbelievable  story by Matthew Franklin  in The Australian on 24 October 2008 that Mr. Rudd had, all by himself, persuaded President Bush to call a meeting of the G20 to deal with the international financial crisis. It did just did not ring true.

 

Worse, the story alleged that when the PM raised the G20, Mr. Bush said “What’s the G20?”

 

The reporter denied that he had been briefed by Mr. Rudd.  The story was that the President called Mr. Rudd while he was entertaining guests at Kirribilli House, who were no doubt impressed with the call. Mr. Rudd went to another room. Apparently there was only one note taker in the room.

(Apparently it is acceptable for prime ministers, other than John Howard, to use Kirribilli House.)


 Now we learn from Glenn Milne and Nick Leys in the Sunday Telegraph on 2 November, 2008  (“Anger at Rudd's leaked Bush call”) that among Mr Rudd’s guests was one Mr. Chris Mitchell, the editor – in –chief of The Australian.

Andrew Bolt pointed ( The Insiders, ABC,  26 October, 2008)  that the Prime Minister frequently boasted about phone conversations with world leaders, but that this was truly embarrassing.

Canberra based diplomats would, he said, be warning governments around the world to be very careful in talking with him. He was right.

The next day the  online source  Crikey did  not to swallow the story that Mr.Rudd all alone had persuaded the Americans to call on the G20, pointing out that others had already bee  talking about involving China through this mechanism.

 Now the White House has specifically denied that Bush asked Rudd that embarrassing question. Writing in the Herald Sun ( 29 October, 2008, “The Prime Blabber”)Andrew Bolt  said he could not recall a greater breach of confidence, a more studied insult to an ally or a more craven attempt at big-noting from an Australian Prime Minister.

 

“Is there a single foreign leader who can now be confident Australia’s Prime Minister won’t blab about their private talks and betray them, too?” he asked. 

According to Greg Sheridan, (“The rise of the G20” The Australian, 30 October 2008), in denying the report, the White House had done something “unique in the US-Australia relationship.”

Mr.Rudd did not deny the report, but immediately agreed with the White House’s recollection. The telephone call was pre-arranged, so he would have known it would come while he was entertaining.

The Washington Post continued: "A US official who monitored the call denied that Bush made any such remark. In addition, the official said, Bush told Rudd during the phone call that other leaders were also advocating a G20 summit and that he was considering it."

…why allow this damaging story to run for days when he knew  it was untrue?…

So who leaked the story to Matthew Franklin?  More importantly, if it were wrong as the PM now admits, why did he let it run  until days later, the White House denied it?

So I sent this letter to The Australian on Thursday 30 October, 2008.  It was not published.

“Dear Editor, 

 "Why did the Prime Minister allow the story about that phone call from the President to run for five days when it so clearly damaged our relations with the US, and ensured Canberra diplomats would advise their governments that conversations with the Australian PM risked ending up in the media.

 "He only he admitted the call and that the President did not ask “ What’s the G20?” after the White House told the Washington Post the real story.( Greg Sheridan, 28/10)   

"Was it that the story suggested the PM is  more powerful and influential than he actually is? I do wonder who leaked the story."

 It is clear  the original story boosted, untruly, the influence and importance of Kevin Rudd.   It  breached confidentiality and worse, was not only demeaning and damaging to the President, but also to our close ally, the United States, and as has been shown, to the standing of Australia in the world. 

 That it appeared and was not challenged immediately by Mr.Rudd must have been of interest and concern to all diplomats in Canberra, who would have been warning the leaders of the world that conversations with Rudd are not only not confidential but are liable to be misrepresented to boost the Prime Minister.

Are we witnessing  a classical case of delusions of grandeur?

That is sadly the question which is being asked in the chancelleries of the world whenever they think of Australia.

We clearly cannot trust him with our Constitution.

    


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