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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 23

Senator COONAN (3:02 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Coonan today relating to the disclosure of an alleged conversation between the Prime Minister and President Bush.

The leak was not only a fundamental breach of a diplomatic convention that reaches back to the time of Bismarck but also an unfortunate part of a pattern of behaviour from a Prime Minister who cannot resist making himself the centre of attention. Like a moth to a flame, he cannot resist the pulling power of celebrity, of being associated with the stars and of feeding his own self-importance and self-satisfaction. Even those on the other side have recognised this objectionable quality in Mr Rudd. Last week, none other than the former Prime Minister Paul Keating said ‘Kevin is all about acclaim’.

On its own, this sort of personal pomposity may not matter but, when it affects Australia’s international relationships, our capacity to deal with our partners around the world and the regard that other countries have for our trustworthiness in dealing with confidential material, it is a matter of enormous public importance. What do we know about this unfortunate breach of convention and diplomatic security? We know that the Prime Minister was having dinner with several people at Kirribilli House, including the editor of the Australian, Mr Chris Mitchell—whose integrity in this matter, I hasten to say, is not at issue. We know that there was a confidential phone call in Mr Rudd’s study with President Bush about a meeting of the G20. We know that only Mr Rudd and a note taker were present. And from that exchange we got an extraordinary and disparaging comment in an article in the Australian that attributed to Mr Bush a question about what the G20 is.

We also know, from a vague clarification by a spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s office, that someone very close to the Prime Minister has falsely and recklessly misrepresented a private conversation between Mr Rudd and President George Bush. This ridiculous assertion has forced senior officials in the United States to issue to the Washington Post a formal statement denying the words attributed to President Bush by someone very close to Mr Rudd. As far as we can establish, this is unprecedented. I cannot find an example in more than 50 years of our alliance with the United States when the White House has been forced to issue such a correction. From the time that this issue first emerged, Mr Rudd has been hiding behind anonymous briefings from his office and has made nonsensical statements. I will quote one of them. On 3 November 2008, he said the following about the source of individual stories:

… there are multiple conversations with multiple people from political offices and elsewhere which leads to the construction of a story.

Go figure that one! It is time that Mr Rudd came out and explained frankly to the public how he or someone close to him got this so very wrong and what he intends to do to resolve it. If he is unable or unwilling to do this, he leaves open the inference that his word, or the word of those close to him—perhaps the hapless note taker—is not to be trusted when it comes to informing the Australian public of the nature of discussions with our major ally. It also leaves open the clear inference that Mr Rudd and those close to him simply cannot be trusted with the important protocols for managing sensitive discussions with one of Australia’s key international partners and indeed our most important international ally.

I also note the silence on the details of this issue from the invisible Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith. Does he see himself as having any responsibilities at all in this matter, or is he happy to just stand back and watch those around Mr Rudd trash our good name and good standing in international matters? This is simply no way to conduct diplomacy with our most important ally. The Australian people deserve an explanation directly from the Prime Minister on how and why his office leaked this matter at all. It is simply not good enough to say that the United States have said officially that they did not say it. (Time expired)