The Other People Opposed To Kevin Rudd’s UN Bid


Feeling bad for Kevin Rudd? The men held on Manus Island aren’t too worried that Rudd’s last shot at glory has gone down in flames, writes Max Chalmers.

For perhaps the first time, and almost certainly the last time, Eric Abetz and the people detained on Manus Island agree on something.

Kevin Rudd’s bid to become the next Secretary General of the United Nations has been scuttled after Malcolm Turnbull announced the Australian government would not nominate him as a contender for the post.

There have been open divisions in the Coalition in regards to whether Rudd would be an appropriate pick for Secretary General, and the former PM’s critics were hardly discreet.

“According to his former colleagues, Mr Rudd is a narcissist, a micro-manager, an impulsive control freak and a psychopath – just to name a few,” a statement released by Senator Eric Abetz said yesterday. “While these qualities may have been required for a come-back to the Labor Leadership, these are not qualities listed on the job-ad for UN Chief.”

But it’s not just the emphatic Tasmanian Senator who has concerns about Rudd taking the post. With refugee and migrant movements at historic highs, the next UN leader will need to be able to craft a convincing humanitarian response to the crisis. Which is why some usually in furious opposition to Abetz had their own reservations about Rudd’s bid.

At a Brisbane press conference on July 19, Rudd took Australia’s refugee policy a step further than it had gone before.

Not only would refugees be subject to processing in a third country, but regardless of the outcome of their assessment they would now be settled offshore.

“Rudd has a mixed record when it comes to human rights – he both dismantled the offshore processing of asylum seekers to worldwide acclaim and then years later, reintroduced it – shirking Australia’s responsibilities onto less-equipped nations,” Elaine Pearson, Australian Director of Human Rights Watch, told New Matilda.

“Clearly there are questions as to whether he is the right person to lead the UN at a time when the world is facing a migration crisis. What we want in the next Secretary General is someone to oppose efforts to prevent people from fleeing to seek asylum and a new global approach to refugees where developed countries accept a greater responsibility for resettlement to ease the disproportionate burden on countries of first refuge.”

“It’s unclear if Rudd would deliver on that.”

The Refugee Council of Australia, a members’ body consisting of refugee organisation in Australia, went further.

“There would be great concern in the global refugee support movement at the appointment of Kevin Rudd, the architect of the current draconian policies causing such great harm to people seeking asylum in Australia,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

And then there’s the people actually living with the results of Rudd’s decision.

new matilda, behrouz
Behrouz Boochani.

Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish journalist detained on Manus Island. He said most of the people didn’t care too much about Rudd’s bid, but he certainly saw the irony.

“I think it’s like a joke,” Boochani said.

“I think he does not deserve to be in that position. The Secretary General position needs an international personality who believes in human rights and cares about people.”

Boochani argued that no Australian could be appropriate for the position given the way the country had failed to respect “global values”.

Even the organisation Rudd is trying to head-up has painted a bleak portrait of the policy framework left by the two-time PM before he was finally dumped from the post for good.

Before Rudd ousted Julia Gillard to return to the position of Prime Minister, the UN had delivered serious warnings about the state of Australia’s offshore detention camps.

When Rudd’s deal with Papua New Guinea was first announced, the UN refugee agency said it was “troubled”, and it only got more troubled as time when on.

Just after Rudd left office the UNHCR inspected Nauru and Manus and titled its subsequent report: “Men, women and children suffering from harsh physical conditions and legal shortcomings at Pacific Island asylum centres.” They found the camps failed to meet international standards and that arbitrary detention was taking place.

After a visit to November, Amnesty took an even dimmer view, with their own report headed: “This Is Breaking People.”

This was the regime Rudd left Australia with, one which would eventually see the deaths of Reza Barati and Hamid Khazaei, an epidemic of self-harm, scores of credible allegations of sexual assault on Nauru, and virtually not a single person actually settled.

When Rudd attempted to justify the decision at his July 2013 press conference he promised those found to be refugees in offshore detention – which the overwhelming majority of people have been – would face a bright future.

“If they are found to be genuine refugees they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, an emerging economy with a strong future; a robust democracy which is also a signatory to the United Nations Refugees Convention,” he said.

In fact, virtually none of them have been, and those transferred for medical reasons recently faced violence in a Port Morsby motel. The fate of those held on Nauru remains entirely up in the air.

By 2015 the UN had accused Australia of nothing less than torture. Special Rapporteur Juan E. Méndez made a number of adverse findings, some of which clearly centre on changes made by the Abbott government, including its frenzied assault on the Migration Act. But others derive directly from the system that Kevin Rudd helped craft, which included the indefinite detention of children in an environment that proved to be entirely unsound for them.

If you’re feeling upset that Turnbull blocked Rudd’s shot at glory, it’s probably worth considering that a little longer.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.