In another deft display of bipartisanship, Kevin Rudd has immediately followed Brendan Nelson’s farewell to Parliament with a surprise announcement that the former Opposition leader will be appointed as ambassador to the European Union and NATO.

The appointment was coupled with the long-expected appointment of another former Opposition leader, Kim Beazley, to Washington. Nelson will also represent Australia at the World Health Organisation, thereby drawing on his former Defence and medical backgrounds in his new role.

Last night, the Prime Minister finished his response to Nelson’s valedictory speech by noting “I have a suspicion, and more than a suspicion, that you will be doing more in the public interest of Australia in the months and years ahead.” While the appointment of Nelson to a government post had been mooted in the press, the immediacy of the appointment, hot on the heels of his farewell from Parliament, was a shock.

Nelson indicated he had only been offered the job by Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith after he had announced his intention to retire from Parliament, although Rudd had held preliminary discussions with him earlier this year on a possible government role.

In a continuation of Nelson’s quiet snubbing of Malcolm Turnbull, he only told Turnbull this morning of his acceptance of the Rudd offer.

Nelson joins Tim Fischer as another former Coalition leader appointed by Rudd to an ambassadorial position. Rudd also appointed former Environment and Defence Minister Robert Hill to the chairmanship of the government’s Carbon Trust, and retained Amanda Vanstone as ambassador to Italy.

The appointment of Beazley had an air of inevitability, given his strong links with successive US administrations and his role within Labor as the strongest supporter of the US alliance. Beazley described the appointment as the best job he could have.

Rudd this morning also hinted at the press conference that he was considering an appropriate role for Peter Costello, who will retire from Parliament next year but left open the possibility of resigning before then.

Rudd’s bipartisanship is sure to anger those within the ALP who see diplomatic posts as the desserts of incumbency, but it continues an extraordinary bipartisanship on the part of Rudd, who has used appointments of former Coalition figures to reinforce his claim to be working in the national interest and wrong-foot the current Coalition leadership, which has looked on as former senior figures have gone to work for Rudd in a variety of capacities.

In the case of Beazley and Nelson, they are also well-suited to their respective appointments, especially given Nelson’s background in Defence and our continuing involvement in Afghanistan.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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