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 Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Australian Prime Minister and his Team Treated Like Rock Stars in Bali

  Read here full article by Glen Milne

KEVIN Rudd's first foray on the international stage as Prime Minister - at the UN Climate Change Summit in Bali - has been a coup that will inevitably be followed by a policy curse.

The coup is that Rudd, in one fell swoop, has achieved international standing for Australia by his decisive intervention at Nusa Dua on behalf of the Kyoto Protocol.

The curse is that once the euphoria of that intervention has passed, Rudd and his government will be burdened by the tough policy work required to sell the costs of Australia's new commitments to a domestic audience.

First impressions were that Rudd strode the world stage with ease, a product of his background as a diplomat.

He instinctively understands the demands of protocol - in stark contrast to John Howard who, on his first trips overseas, resembled a broken toy soldier on an unfamiliar parade ground.

Rudd's easy demeanour was helped immeasurably by the greeting the Australian team received. The 10,000 delegates embraced Rudd and his ministers with all the warmth of the waters that surround this island.

"It was like we were all rock stars,'' one of them told me. And watching them, with wave after wave of UN officials wanting to shake their hands, you could believe it.

None of the neophyte ministers put a foot wrong. Treasurer Wayne Swan built on the increasingly close work Treasury officials have been doing with their Indonesian counterparts.

When it came time for the group finance ministers photo, the hosts placed Swan on the right hand of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

World Bank president and former US under-secretary of state Bob Zoellick was pushed to one side - a measure of how far Washington was on the outer over its continued refusal to sign up to Kyoto.

An assured Stephen Smith looks like he'll fit the surprise appointment as Foreign Minister like a glove.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong won high praise from green groups, not for bending to their will, but for her tough-minded focus and clear articulation of Australia's position. She was the country's chief negotiator, and acted like it.

Despite being muzzled in favour of Wong, Environment Minister Peter Garrett enjoyed himself.

Whatever you may have thought of his troubled campaign, there was simply no nay-saying Garrett's impact in Bali. His mere presence was a statement about the changed direction of Australian policy.

Rudd was suitably statesmanlike in his formal appearances, but elsewhere we got a glimpse of what is likely to be a less buttoned-down prime ministership than that of John Howard. "Please, call me Kevin,'' was his greeting.

Addressing an Australian reception, Rudd joked that his highest praise was reserved for the official who managed to find him a jar of Vegemite. Apparently our PM can become quite irritable if he doesn't get his Vegemite at breakfast.

Rudd calls Zoellick and Al Gore "old friends''. And they are.

PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare is "the Chief''. All this familiarity is real: a product of his networking as shadow foreign minister.

With Indonesia, Rudd was smart to stress the continuity with the Howard era on issues such as anti-terrorism.

Smart, too, to address Yudhoyono as "His Excellency'' - an acknowledgment of age and experience in the personal relationship, not necessarily a reflection of the power equation.

So, on style, Rudd floated through. On substance, too. But the truth is that the hard work lies ahead.

Bali put Rudd between the US and China, our two key relationships. The tension is that the US is partly outside the post-Kyoto tent, and China wants it inside as the price of its full commitment.

The Bali irony for Rudd is that his embrace of Kyoto put the pressure back on Australia from the developing countries to influence the US to do the same.

Rudd met those expectations with a strong speech to delegates in which his message to the US was unequivocal.

"We need all developed nations - all developed nations,'' he repeated in case anyone doubted he had Washington in mind, "those within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, and those outside it, to embrace comparable efforts.''

Rudd has now unequivocally aligned Australia with the pro-climate-change UN position. Now he must align Australian public opinion with the measures required to make that a reality.

In that context, he is right to wait until the findings of the Garnaut Report, due in mid-2008, into the domestic economic impact of achieving greenhouse goals before embracing the 20 to 40 per cent 2020 targets advocated in Bali.

Mind you, John Howard must be gnashing his teeth; this is precisely the cautious approach he advocated during the election. But politics is all about timing, and on climate change Rudd has picked his moment perfectly.

One final strange thing about the Prime Minister, seeing him in Bali; he looked taller than he did as Opposition Leader.

Post-Bali, that's also the way Australia looks to much of the rest of the world.

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