From The eXiled’s Special Australasia Correspondent
PERTH, AUSTRALIA–A few hours ago (as of writing this), Julian Assange released his first US Embassy cable regarding Australian politics. It’s still too early for me to make my mind up, but it’s never too early to speculate. If the cable is genuine, it might be the most delicious disgrace in Prime Ministerial history – my brain’s tall poppy receptors are already tingling at the idea that it’s a real communiqué. Still, the whole thing is a little too perfect.
According to the cable, our former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made some unfortunate comments about China in a 75-minute meeting with Hillary Clinton. According to Rudd, China’s leaders are “sub-rational” and America should be ready to “deploy force” if diplomacy fails. Even more damning (at least, supposedly) is his claim that Australia’s plans to expand its submarine fleet were “a response to China’s growing ability to project force.”
I should explain, before anything, why this is so delicious. Kevin Rudd came to power in Australia in late 2007, just over a year before Obama’s election victory. Like Obama, he replaced a long-standing conservative government while presenting himself as a progressive, and, like Obama’s, his government was a carbon copy of his predecessor’s in almost every area, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
I wouldn’t normally use “tall poppy” as a slur, but if Rudd wasn’t a soulless vegetable with a waxy disproportionate head, then what was he? He certainly didn’t resemble Gough Whitlam, Australia’s last real Labor Prime Minister (whose election victory, if you believe Kwitny, made the CIA panic “almost as if our Australian ally had actually fallen to communists”). If he had one personality quirk, it was phoning random public servants during the early hours of the morning – this got him the nickname “Kevin 24/7.” Unfortunately, Prime Minister Crystal Dick seemed to spend most of his time tinkering with Howard policies to make them even more evil. In 2007, Howard gave families a free piece of Internet filtering software that cost $90m to develop… and could be bypassed by teenagers in less than 10 minutes. Rudd decided a software-based filter wasn’t enough and tried to extend Howard’s idea to an ISP level. It would never have worked, but like the current TSA scandal in America, it gave instant brownie points to all sorts of Penn & Teller loudmouths who’d be otherwise unemployed.
The other thing Rudd is famous for is China. He speaks Mandarin, had a long career as a Beijing diplomat in the 1980s, and Australian newspaper cartoonists occasionally like to draw him in a Chairman Mao suit. Playing up his sensitivity to Chinese culture was a crucial part of his 2007 campaign strategy. Earlier in the year, his party caucus forced him to resign and gave the PM job to his deputy, Julia Gillard. Now, imagine a political machine full of cold, convictionless little Adrian-Lamo-style nerds (plus a few jocks who happen to wear glasses) and you’d have a good picture of Rudd’s “Labor Right” faction. As a consolation prize for losing the Prime Minister job, they gave Rudd a cosy position as Foreign Minister in the “new” Gillard Government, figuring his Chinese credentials would carry him.
And that’s hardly the best piece of irony.
As Foreign Minister, you see, Rudd is the default head of ASIS, Australia’s equivalent to the CIA. If this morning’s cable is genuine, then Julian Assange has just caused our foreign intelligence agency one of its biggest ever embarrassments. It was only yesterday that the Wikileaks founder accused Australia’s government of betraying him “so that Australian diplomats and politicians can be invited to the best US embassy cocktail parties.” It looks like he’s finally bitten back.
It’s a pleasant scenario, but there’s still every chance the cable was a selective leak. For starters, it makes Rudd look suspiciously tough and uncompromising, which is exactly the bullshit West Wing image every Labor hack wants to cultivate. I’ve known a few. The scene of an Australian Prime Minister telling an American Secretary of State when to “deploy force” is even fishier, almost like a propaganda script to disguise Australia’s lackey status. Several readers of The Age website have already responded positively, claiming Rudd is “one of the few politicians around the world to approach China with some honesty” and is “only telling the truth.” If it’s a ruse, it might just work. (And it’s not like One Nation racists are the only voters Rudd could grab with a bit of Sinophobia: there are plenty of right-wing Chinese anticommunists still around.) The question is whether Rudd gave Beijing advance warning: to answer that, Assange would have to find some Australian or Chinese cables.
There’s also the matter of Rudd’s daughter Jessica, who happens to be married to a Hong-Kong-born banker called Albert Tse (also the former President of the Labor Club at QUT, the Queensland University of Technology). In 2008, Jessica moved to Beijing with her husband, apparently quitting her job in PR to become a full-time socialite. Rudd obviously has a pretty significant stake in China – that’s another thing that makes the cable a bit too perfect. There’s no shortage of failed Labor politicians who’ve badmouthed their former associates for profit – Google “Mark Latham” if you’re American – but dissing China while your son-in-law is doing business there makes no sense to a careerist unless the Chinese are in on the whole thing. That’s why, if it isn’t staged, it’s one hell of a clusterfuck.
The Rudd Family: (l-r) Son-in-law Albert Tse, daughter/author Jessica, Daddy & Mommy
Ms. Rudd’s career comes with a few other unanswered questions. Less than two months after her father’s forced resignation, she brought out a “political chick-lit” novel called Campaign Ruby. The writing itself was mediocre, the usual plot about shoe-shopping and whatever, but the book had one claim to fame – predicting Crystal Dick’s resignation and replacement by Australia’s first female Prime Minister. The mainstream media called this “freakily prescient.” The really freaky part, though, is seeing Jessica Rudd in an interview. She claims to have barely finished two chapters before getting a book deal. She also claims to have gotten a deadline to complete the book by December 2009, despite being a first-time writer. Why December? Did the Labor hacks tip her off about her father’s resignation months ahead? (After her father’s demotion, getting to predict a major political event would make a nice consolation prize.) And could you imagine her writing a political novel if her father wasn’t about to get booted? A novel about a PM, getting ratfucked, published while he’s still in office? By his own fucking spawn? In the middle of an election year? Finally, she says the book was “so much fun” to write. I don’t think anyone who’s actually tried to write a novel would describe the process as “fun” – unless you’re handing outlines to a ghost writer, that is.
In short, Kevin Rudd has had plenty of incidents in his career that were about as spontaneous and unscripted as an All Saints episode, though I’m yet to issue a final verdict about Assange’s latest leak.
Or, as Jessica Rudd would put it: “I know, such a coincidence.”
Ramon Glazov lives and writes in Perth, Western Australia. Email him at “ramonglazov at gmail dot com”
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