What does Kevin Rudd do now?

The Department of Foreign Affairs assessed the likelihood former prime minister Kevin Rudd would secure the top UN job he so desperately wanted, but it won’t tell us how good his chances were, citing cabinet confidentiality.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull kyboshed Rudd’s hopes to become UN Secretary-General shortly after the election, but the government did put in a lot of work to look at what prospect Rudd might have had in getting the gig earlier this year.

As Rudd toured the globe attempting to secure support for his bid, in May the then-secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Peter Varghese, authorised the Australian Mission to the UN in New York to begin an analysis of Rudd’s prospects, according to answers to questions on notice from estimates. He did this after discussions about Rudd’s candidacy with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. In May and June, Rudd met with the Head of Mission in New York, Gillian Bird, three times to discuss his candidacy.

But the department refused to release this analysis, which became a submission to cabinet and was therefore confidential. Labor has been attempting to find out whether the department recommended that the government back Rudd’s candidacy, something Turnbull ultimately decided against at the end of July.

Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey also sounded out Rudd’s prospects. DFAT also declined to release those, and the letter from Hockey to Bishop about Rudd’s prospects.

“It would not be appropriate to pass on information or comments provided in confidence by other governments. The letter from Australia’s Ambassador to the US was addressed to the Foreign Minister and not DFAT. It is therefore not appropriate for DFAT to provide a copy of this letter.”

Rudd also had the second-highest number of requests for assistance from former PMs made to DFAT this year, with 15 requests to October. He mainly sought ground transport and assistance in setting up meetings as he toured around the world preparing for his UN bid. Rudd visited Russia three times, the United States three times, as well as Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, France, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Germany and Denmark.

He was second only to Julia Gillard, who made 17 requests for assistance as she visited the US and UK on multiple occasions, as well as South Africa, Norway, Turkey, Sweden, and Denmark, among others.

Former prime ministers John Howard and Bob Hawke made only one and two requests respectively for visits to the US and China. Former prime minister Tony Abbott made five requests for his visits to the US, the UK, Japan, and the Ukraine, including setting up a dinner with Australia’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, when Abbott visited the UK in March.

There are rumours that when Downer’s term expires next year, he could be replaced by embattled Attorney-General George Brandis. Brandis refused to rule out the possibility in an estimates hearing on Monday.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey