Gosh, what a busy time Kevin Rudd had last week.
He had to apologise for being rude to an RAAF stewardess several months ago, when he had also apologised. He had to tighten security at the Lodge when it was revealed that a few weeks ago some bikies (well, at least they were big blokes with tattoos) had spent unauthorised time there. Indeed, he had to tighten security all over when it was reported that Chinese spies might be trying to intercept his emails.
Then there was the furore when he wanted to change seats at a photo session to be next to an English mate rather than a Chinese delegate. And he was still having to answer questions about his defence minister’s Chinese connection and his treasurer’s stance on Chinese investment in Australia. Finally, to cap it all, he had to endure the indignity of being placed towards the end of the table at a formal dinner party.
Oh, and of course he found time to play a positive and constructive part in the most important international conference of the century and take an active role in the construction and promotion of a new world order before returning to announce a new package to soften the effects of the world recession and take the crucial decisions in shaping next month’s watershed budget.
These events are recorded in roughly the order of importance allocated to them by the Australian media, whose desire to puncture the image of St Kevin is currently being implemented with the same zeal they showed in creating it.
It is one thing for the Prime Minister to continue to command undreamt of heights of political approval; the political commentariat may not be able to explain the phenomenon, but it still makes for a sexy headline. However, it is another thing entirely for the public adulation to be reflected in the media coverage. The man must be brought back to earth with a dull thud and at every opportunity.
The process began even before Rudd reached London for the G20. His Washington meeting with Barack Obama was derided as being no more than routine. Rudd, sniffed The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, was never going to be as close to Obama as John Howard had been to George Bush, and that was all that needed to be said on the subject. In sharp contrast the paper’s cartoonist Bill Leak portrayed Rudd as inserted in precisely the same presidential orifice as Howard occupied for so long.
Actually the two men appear to have developed an excellent working arrangement and a certain amount of personal rapport, according to the travelling press. It may not be as cosy as the quasi-homoerotic arrangement enjoyed by their predecessors, but is this really such a bad thing? The point is that Obama and Rudd were able to co-operate at the G20 on everything that mattered, including the commitment to a second summit in New York later in the year.
It is here that the foundation successfully laid down in London can be built into a lasting structure to set both political and economic parameters for the foreseeable future, and to do so in way that is more pragmatic and effective than anything achieved by the United Nations and more equitable and inclusive than the efforts of the now superseded G7.
The London meeting did not implement everything the various factions had worked for: Obama and Britain’s Gordon Brown (backed up of course by Rudd) did not get the immediate stimulus surge for which they campaigned, nor did the Europeans get the mandatory regulatory authority which they had previously regarded as non-negotiable.
But there were plenty of solid outcomes, the most important being the major reforms to the International Monetary Fund, which may now be able to do some real good in the world rather than simply reflecting the economic fads espoused by the richest nations. The outing of tax havens is also a useful move, as are the strictures on executive pay deals. Both will have more symbolic than practical effects on the world’s economy, but in these troubled times symbols can be vital in restoring confidence.
But the real triumph of the G20 was simply that it worked. There were no walkouts and no serious histrionics. The most powerful men and women on the planet were able to oversee and agree to a shift in the balance of international power on a scale not seen since the end of World War II.
Obama marvelled at the fact that he, as president of the United States, could now sit down with his counterparts from Russia and China for serious and productive discussion on the financial crisis, but that is only the most obvious and dramatic aspect of the revolution that has taken place.
As power shifted from Europe to America during the last century, it is now shifting again, but this time not to a new monopoly but to a far more democratic and hopeful framework. The Asian tigers, particularly China, have been given their rightful place and the emerging forces in South America and Africa invited to the table. For the first time in history, the most important decision-making forum on earth actually represents a majority of earth’s peoples.
The world has changed for the better and Australia, through Kevin Rudd, has been an enthusiastic and effective part of the change. But of course, he did have to apologise to the RAAF stewardess. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.
The RAAF stewardess yelled at by Kevin Rudd may have though she got a bad deal from the Prime Minister. She should consult her counterpart from 1970, who was serving in the VIP plane which took John Grey Gorton from Canberra to Melbourne.
It had been along day in parliament and naturally he used the trip to unwind with a few drinks. Arriving at his function at the Sheraton hotel, he found himself among friends so a few pre-dinner drinks were in order; then there were the wines and a port or two, and of course it would have been impolite to refuse a palate-cleanser or several later.
Eventually they wheeled him out to the commonwealth car which deposited him back at Tullamarine, where they poured him into the plane for the flight home. Sensibly the Prime Minister decided to take a refreshing nap, but when he woke some time later to the steady thrum, thrum of the engines he felt decidedly queasy; so much so that he leaned into the aisle and threw up.
A stewardess arrived to clean up the debris, and Jolly John decided to make the best of it. “Well,” he said, switching on all his considerable charm, “I suppose you’re surprised that an old RAAF man like me still gets air sick occasionally?”
To which the stewardess replied: “Well yes sir. I am actually, because the plane hasn’t taken off yet.” She dined out on it for weeks.