Malcolm Turnbull now professes to be more relaxed about the Prime Minister’s overseas travel. Well, sort of. Back in September, when the Prime Minister went to New York, Turnbull called him “the prime tourist.” Phil Coorey wrongfooted Turnbull at the Press Club on Monday when he asked whether that trip now looked different in retrospect given Rudd had met Timothy Geithner, who will shortly be the US Treasury Secretary. Turnbull generously declared that travel wasn’t high on his lengthy list of criticisms of the PM — but only after several jokes about it.

Judging by Julia Gillard’s effortless performance yesterday in running Question Time in between unveiling the Government’s new IR bill, the Coalition might really want Rudd to stay at home a bit more.

So how much travel has the PM undertaken in his first twelve months? He has just returned from his twelfth overseas trip, totalling 67 days out of the country. This includes a lightning two-day visit to see Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before Christmas and a three-hour visit to Dili following the East Timor coup attempt and the shooting of President Ramos-Horta in February. Rudd will go to Bali for the 10 December Bali Democracy Forum at the invitation of the Indonesian Government and attend the fourth East Asia summit a week later in Bangkok. That will make fourteen all up.

Except, according to The Age’s Leo Shanahan, Rudd has just completed his 18th trip. And back in September, a Malcolm Farr Telegraph article was headlined “Kevin Rudd’s off on his 16th overseas trip”. What’s going on? Farr didn’t actually refer to sixteen trips at all. The nearest he came was to say that Rudd’s trip to New York “will be his second visit to the US this year, and an extension of a travel itinerary which so far has taken him to 15 other countries.” The trip to New York — where he met Geithner and other US officials – was actually Rudd’s tenth.

Either inspired by the Telegraph’s subeditors or off his own bat, Nats leader Warren Truss ran with the number. “After 10 months in Government, Kevin Rudd is about to head off on his 16th overseas trip,” Truss said on his website in September.

And the number took hold in the blogosphere. ABC website commenters talked about 16 trips in September. Telegraph website commenters recently complained about Rudd’s 18th trip. Right-wingers discussed it on their blogs. A commenter on Julie Bishop’s Fairfax blog mentioned it. Reactionary rural blog AgMates talked about 16 trips, as did Bernard Slattery, moderator on Andrew Bolt’s blog. Even commenters on Crikey’s blogs fell for it.

All wrong. All fooled by a misleading Tele headline.

Keeping track of Prime Ministerial travel can be tricky. When the Tele was claiming sixteen trips, Ninemsn was saying eight. But it’s the higher number that will stick in people’s minds. By the time the year is out, there’ll be someone somewhere, possibly even an experienced journalist, talking about Rudd’s 20 overseas trips. Falsehoods travel far faster and further than a Prime Minister ever can.

Peter Fray

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