Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has dipped his toe into the Scotland independence debate and defended his government’s asylum-seeker policy, in a speech at the Oxford Union.
Despite his wife’s Scottish ancestors’ fight “against the perfidious English”, Mr Rudd said Britain would lose a large part of its global personality without Scotland.
“Scotland is better placed where it is,” he said.
After introductory anecdotes, Mr Rudd themed his speech on politics, urging the 300-strong crowd of Oxford students to maintain peace and preserve liberty, to work for “inclusive capitalism”, to find a non-confrontational answer to the “great question of our age”, the rise of China.
He also said they had to tackle climate change, admitting his generation had had “at best marginal success”.
During question time, he complained that the “insularity of local politics” was holding national leaders back from finding global consensus at events such as the climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009.
One student challenged him on his role in creating Australia’s current asylum-seeker policy, asking how it matched his rhetoric on peace and liberty.
Mr Rudd said the difference between his policy and the Abbott government’s was their decision to turn back the boats.
He told the audience that Australia was the “third most generous” country in the world for accepting refugees, after the USA and Canada.
He said his government had increased the refugee intake from 20,000 to 25,000, a change he said cost a billion dollars a year.
By the end of 2013, Mr Rudd said, “the number of folks coming by boat was overwhelming the whole refugee intake”, which he said posed a “practical, moral and political dilemma".
“It’s not a perfect answer,” he said.
Asked about the success of China’s economic model, he said China’s future depended on resolving its fundamental contradiction between the speed of its development and the environmental consequences.
He was also asked what he thought of the Abbott government’s indigenous advisory council.
Mr Rudd said “you should judge a tree by its fruits” and said he would give it the benefit of the doubt for a while.