“Kevin Rudd has splurged close to $3.4 million on overseas travel since coming to power.” — Herald Sun, February 2009

“The man who made the biggest promises about the environment during last year’s federal election has become the man with the biggest carbon footprint in Australia.” — The Sydney Morning Herald, December 2008

Remember the Kevin 747 jokes? They were the Australian media’s favourite gag in 2008, as Kevin Rudd jetted around the world urging our trade partners to act on the global financial crisis.

Despite Rudd’s reputation, however, Tony Abbott hasn’t been any less of a jet-setting PM — in fact, he’s in China for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit right now, his 12th trip in the past year. But as the SMH‘s Peter Hartcher rightly observes in his new essay The Adolescent Country, Abbott hasn’t had to answer the same questions about his travel. In fact, foreign policy has become an area of strength for the Abbott government, despite its early antagonism towards Indonesia and, more recently, certain comments about “shirt-fronting” Vladimir Putin.

Instead of headlines like “Kevin 07 has become Departure Gate 08” (The Daily Telegraph), Abbott has been treated with “Globetrotting Tony Abbott proves his worth on world stage” (The Australian).

Hartcher argues that Australian politics has traditionally prioritised the local over the global — even when international concerns are far more important to Australia’s interests. But Abbott’s world dealings have been received very differently — with a focus on the outcomes and relationships built by his visits rather than a zero-sum mentality where every day abroad is another day not spent on Australian interests. This is a good sign. Perhaps, as Bernard Keane wrote last week, the Australian press merely takes longer to turn on conservative prime ministers. Or maybe Australia is finally growing up.

Peter Fray

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