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Gillard on the go is being undersold

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Phillip Coorey

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Gillard touches down from APEC summit

Prime Minister Julia Gillard echoes other APEC members at the Japan summit, vowing to continue to break down international trade barriers.

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Julia Gillard will spend about 55 hours in the air and 18 on the ground just to attend the NATO summit in Lisbon. She arrives home this morning from a week overseas and heads off again on Thursday.

It will be the Prime Minister's fifth international gathering in six weeks, following on from the Asia-Europe Meeting in Belgium, the East Asia Summit in Vietnam, the G20 in South Korea last week, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Japan at the weekend.

Gillard thought twice before committing to NATO but decided to go given it will be a pivotal gathering to discuss the withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan.

For somebody who said in Belgium that she did not have a passion for foreign affairs, she is adapting quickly.

Over the past week she has been acutely aware of how she is being perceived at home and there has been a sensitivity within her delegation to domestic criticism that she is something of a stumblebum abroad.

Certainly there are few votes in foreign affairs; only a downside insofar as you are punished for messing up.

She was chipped for making intemperate remarks about banks to an international business summit in Seoul. While this may have been a mistake, three banks did spit in her face by increasing rates last week while she was abroad arguing they be exempted from new rules and regulations to prevent another global financial crisis.

By and large her mistakes abroad have been few and, her supporters argue, her achievements undersold.

One senior official urged consideration of what Gillard had done in foreign affairs in the less than six months she has been Prime Minister. He rattled off significant bilateral discussions already held with well over a dozen leaders of nations including the US, Britain, China, Germany, Indonesia, France, Russia, Canada and Japan.

She has visited Afghanistan, can hold a conversation on the war as well as anybody, and her speech to Parliament was more unambiguous than anything the former prime ministers John Howard or Kevin Rudd ever managed.

One source familiar with Gillard's bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama on Saturday said the US officials noted afterwards that Gillard conversed across topics ranging from China, regional architecture, free trade, climate change and war ''without a single note in front of her''.

The most undersold achievement thus far was the deal struck with Indonesia two weeks ago. The $500 million for education was more than a goodwill gesture. It will build 2000 new schools and upgrade the curriculum of another 1500 Islamic schools, giving their students a better education in the sciences, history and humanities, with less focus on the Koran. Most significant was the establishment of an economic relationship with Indonesia, a glaring omission in an otherwise strong and important partnership. If there has been a problem, it has been selling the message.

Gillard, like most prime ministers, did not come to the job as a creature of foreign affairs. The two notable exceptions were Gough Whitlam and Rudd and they were also two of the nation's shortest-serving prime ministers.

''She isn't going to become a foreign policy junkie who sees life in those terms,'' said the official.

Within the bureaucracy, Gillard is being likened to Howard and Bob Hawke. Both started the job with a strong domestic focus and used their sound negotiating skills in the foreign arena.

Gillard alluded to this trait when asked about the criticism back home. ''I like dealing with people and whether you're dealing with leaders of the G20, whether you're dealing with leaders here at APEC, whether you're at home talking to Australians about what's on their mind, people are people and if you can get them talking and work issues through you can normally find a good place, a good path.''

The foreign affairs focus of Gillard is higher than normal because of the competitive tensions and inevitable comparisons with Rudd, now her Foreign Affairs Minister. Tongues flapped at the weekend when Rudd spoke at length on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and described Gillard's performance abroad as ''appropriate and professional''.

The Rudd-Gillard thing risks being overinterpreted because Rudd, after all, is the Foreign Affairs Minister and must be allowed to operate as one. Gillard is not obsessed by Rudd's shadow and can be quite magnanimous towards him. Upon arrival in Seoul, for example, she said Rudd deserved much credit for the G20's swift action to confront the global financial crisis.

A Gillard intimate said the focus on ''Julia versus Kevin'' in foreign affairs ''would have some significance if she wasn't comfortable in her own skin, if it was messing with her head''.

''Gillard in no way is intellectually or emotionally benchmarking herself against Kevin. She's just doing what she does to the best of her abilities.''

 

0 comment

  • Miss Gillard worries more about what is happening behind her back on these overseas trips than she does about any foreign problems in front of her. And not with good reason either.

    Commenter
    SteveH.
    Date and time
    November 15, 2010, 7:42AM
    • The woman is the un-elected leader of a non re-elected government that has overseen a half dozen spectacularly failed policies and which has drained the coffers dry. They have no credible policies and the country is running on auto pilot at present. Is this a good situation?

      Commenter
      Jim Byrnes
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 15, 2010, 7:44AM
      • Jim Byrnes@8.44.a.m.
        If the Independants had given their support to Tony Abbott then he would be the "un-elected leader of a non-elected government". Time to "build a bridge and get over it" as Labor is now the Government and you just have to accept it - that's the way our system works even if you don't like it. The Coalition's only policies are fear and smear. Their inflamatory language and huffing and puffing is getting to be quite boring.

        Commenter
        Joe
        Location
        NSW
        Date and time
        November 15, 2010, 8:18AM
        • The column is a measured and moderate one, avoiding the hyperbole of most journalism surrounding this. I am relieved that I no longer need to read faux conflicts when evaluating the work of both Gillard and Rudd in foreign affairs. Both are doing effective work.

          Those whose comments continue to be intemperate remind me of little children whose lolly was taken from them. Sulk a little. Then, for goodness sake, get over it.

          Commenter
          brian
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          November 15, 2010, 8:24AM
          • Jim Byrnes, please stop telling lies. The Prime Minister was elected to the division of Lalor with 64% of the primary vote (a 4% swing to her).

            Then on the floor of the parliament her proposals for speaker were accepted 76 to 74, therefore she had the confidence of the House and the Governor-General appointed her Prime Minister of Australia.

            If my claim that you lie upsets you, that is, if you don't understand our constitution or how the parliament and electoral system works that's ok - it's a complex thing - and you should seek to educate yourself about the operation of Australian democracy before making claims which are patently wrong in every respect.

            Commenter
            scot
            Location
            auchenflower
            Date and time
            November 15, 2010, 8:32AM
            • Julia Gillard only holds office on the whim of two erratic independents. She has no mandate and knows it - which is why she is always so nervous as she waddles about on the world or domestic stage.
              Interesting that she and Rudd share the same trait of always talking and talking and talking about problems but achieve little in the way of concrete change.
              Labor is a profound disappointment in office. Gillard will be gone by Christmas and replaced by somebody else to lead the party to electoral oblivion.
              Step forward little Billy Shorten, your hour is approaching.

              Commenter
              Frank Chamberlain
              Location
              Canberra On The Line
              Date and time
              November 15, 2010, 8:34AM
              • This is the first really positive article I have read about Julia Gillard since the election. To get where she is today takes guts, fortitude and talent and she apparently used such talents on the world stage. The media has a role to play in a democracy and that role is to balance its reporting of both sides of the political spectrum. This article is a step in re-establishing that balance. I also think that Australia has to adjust to having a woman as Prime Minister and get away from the hidden sexism contained in sections of the medias comments about her.

                Commenter
                Rob
                Location
                Gymea Bay
                Date and time
                November 15, 2010, 8:38AM
                • Frank Chamberlain, actually the erratic independent went over to the Coalition. The rather more considered and logical independents are supporting the Labor minority Government. Labor has a mandate to govern and hopefully they can get on with it, even in the face of an Opposition that feels it must start a fight over every single issue; an Opposition that is actively pursuing an agenda that is damaging Australian interests in many different ways.

                  Commenter
                  jofek
                  Date and time
                  November 15, 2010, 9:05AM
                  • I read the Weekend Australian (I buy it for the Sunday Times Crossword) and could not believe the anti-Gillard and anti-Labor slant it puts on vitually every story. Those must be totting up their Rupert brownie points. If only those pesky voters would get out of the way. Thank you Phillip Coorey for providing some sanity to counter the fear, loathing and hysteria of the right wing media.

                    Commenter
                    jonno
                    Location
                    Sydney
                    Date and time
                    November 15, 2010, 9:05AM
                    • I switch channels whenever I see her. She is nothing more than a sneaky operative (with no morals and the worst speaking voice I have ever heard) who wrecked an elected government with a sixteen seat majority - and this sudden burst of positivity from you, Bongornio and Middleton etc. won't do anything to change my mind. All it's doing is annoying me even more - if that's possible!!

                      Commenter
                      EBAB
                      Location
                      St Lucia
                      Date and time
                      November 15, 2010, 9:06AM
                      Comments are now closed

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