Ex-Australia PM shrugs off US slurs

2010-12-08 11:02

Sydney - Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday laughed off a scathing US diplomatic appraisal branding him a "mistake-prone control freak", saying he didn't "give a damn" about the slur.

The embarrassing and highly critical revelations came in leaked cables from the US ambassador in Canberra supplied by whistleblower outfit WikiLeaks and published exclusively by the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday.

"I'm sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don't care," Rudd, the current foreign minister, said on commercial television.

"My job's just to act in Australia's national interest as Australia's foreign minister. I don't, frankly, give a damn about this sort of thing. You just get on with it."

The Canberra embassy noted in cables to Washington that Rudd, who was toppled as prime minister in June by Julia Gillard, made foreign policy blunders because of hasty decisions and micro-managing tendencies.

Former US ambassador Robert McCallum told his bosses Rudd's diplomatic "missteps" were mostly due to his propensity to make "snap announcements without consulting other countries or within the Australian government".

Obsessed with media

He micro-managed policy, overriding then-foreign minister Stephen Smith, leading to blunders including a 2008 snap announcement that he would push for the creation of a new Asia-Pacific grouping that was scorned in Asia.

He later surprised his Japanese hosts by telling them he was about to announce in Tokyo the establishment of an international commission on nuclear disarmament, a cable said.

Rudd frustrated colleagues by being a "control freak" who was "obsessed with managing the media cycle rather than engaging in collaborative decision making", extracts of cables published by the Herald said.

He also "deeply offended" Australia's closest ally in 2008 when he aggressively pushed for a meeting with then president George W Bush in Washington but then abruptly cancelled two days later, the papers showed.

Making matters worse, McCallum said the faux pas was followed by what Washington saw as Rudd's "self-serving and inaccurate leaking" of details of an October 2008 phone call between Bush and Rudd.

A newspaper reported at the time that Rudd had told acquaintances he was "stunned to hear Bush say, 'What's the G20?'", ahead of a key meeting of the grouping of economic powers at the start of the global economic crisis.

Water off a duck's back

Rudd had showed "exceptionally poor judgment in trying to aggrandise himself at the expense of Australia's most important relationship" following the reported comments that made Bush look foolish, McCallum said.

Current US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich refused to comment on the leaks, saying only that cables were not the policy of opinion of the United States, but were simply personal "expressions of a particular point in time".

Mandarin-speaking former diplomat Rudd, known as a workaholic, shrugged off the stinging diplomatic criticism from his country's most important partner, saying it was "water off a duck's back".

"I am still waiting for the diplomatic cable to be written that says that Kevin Rudd is a relaxed sort of guy, he has a beer every night, he laughs at all our jokes and more importantly does everything we want him to do.

"And guess what? I don't think one has ever been written like that. And guess what? I'm not exactly like that and frankly I don't care," he told reporters.

The Herald says it has obtained hundreds of WikiLeaks documents revealing US embassy assessments of Australia, but has not yet published any in full.