Hey I heard from several sources that Greg Sheridan wants to be Secretary General of the United Nations. I don’t want to describe these sources, even generically. And I don’t regard them as definitive. But take my word for it, each is a source you’d normally give a lot of credibility to. Each is in a position to know quite a lot about this sort of subject.

I think Greg isn’t handling the Rudd Government too well. Personally, I mean. The poor bloke is all at sea. He got so comfy in the warm embrace of the Howard Government that this harsh, new world of a Labor Government has come as not merely a cultural but a personal shock. He’s no longer a part-time apologist for the Australian Government’s foreign policy and it seems to hurt.

When you haven’t got your bearings, it’s hard to be consistent. Take his commentary on the White Paper. His first effort, the morning of its release, savaged it as “an almost incoherent blancmange” in which the “internal contradictions in the document are so staggering it looks like sentences have been bolted on almost at random”, a document that was ashamed of its own “silly” assertions.

A few days later he reversed himself. Well, triple-somersaulted with half-pike and twist of lemon, more accurately. “If Joel Fitzgibbon achieves three-quarters of what he wants to do, he will be one of the most significant defence ministers Australia has had … the decisions, and the ambition, are very good. They may not all be realised, but as long as Labor is in office it will be measured against the equipment decisions and aspirations of this document.”

“The spin is dizzying and not altogether honest,” Sheridan mused, “but the substance is pretty damn good.”

Perhaps Greg has been forced to think about more personal values. In April, the back page of The Weekend Australian ’s Review section found Sheridan in confessional mode, discussing his hero-worshipping of the “spell-binding” reactionary BA Santamaria. It’s not always older reactionaries though, is it Greg — you worshipped Alexander Downer as well, surely?

Today’s effort, though, sees Sheridan returning to type and launching a savage attack on a Labor leader.

One of the ongoing themes of conservative politics, one of the ideas that automatically revert to in political rhetoric, is the suggestion that the ALP is too distracted by “vision” and “social engineering” to effectively govern. This was especially effective against Paul Keating who, according to the then-Opposition and conservative commentators, was too busy pursuing a “big-picture agenda” of reconciliation, the republic and APEC to address the needs of “ordinary Australians”. The very real ambitions of Gareth Evans, too, became a figure of mockery.

Sheridan’s personal preference seemed to be for the Howard Government’s approach of out-sourcing our foreign policy, entirely, to Washington.

Now Sheridan is claiming that Kevin Rudd is actively directing taxpayers’ money toward a personal ambition to replace Ban Ki-moon. Sheridan goes into elaborate and nonsensical calculation about how a western leader, from a nation closely allied with the US, could become UN Secretary-General.

The agenda is clear — try to undermine Rudd’s immensely annoying popularity by suggesting he has his mind on other things — and in particular on the United Nations, a brand that doesn’t exactly have a lot of respect amongst Australians. It all fits together, doesn’t it — all that travel overseas, that silly ambition for a UN Security Council seat, Rudd’s proposals for regional “architecture”.

It would simply be childish if it wasn’t for the suggestion that Rudd was using taxpayers’ money as part of this agenda, which takes it into territory where the Prime Minister’s lawyers might give Sheridan’s article some very close attention. “You heard it here first,” Sheridan concludes. And quite possibly last.

Peter Fray

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