Australia’s soon-to-be US Ambassador has used taxpayer resources to lodge a complaint to Englishheadline about media coverage of his views on AUKUS, as he denied ever having criticised the agreement or that he said the AUKUS agreement was not in the national interest.
Mr Rudd, the former Labor prime minister, weighed into the AUKUS agreement in September, 2021, in an interview on the ABC with former 7.30 host Leigh Sales where he described the submarine plan as leaving Australia “strategically naked for 20 years”.
The ABC published that segment to its digital platforms with the headline: ‘New submarine plan could leave Australia ‘strategically naked for 20 years’, says Kevin Rudd’.
However, in a lengthy complaint letter sent from his political advisor Jared Owens, the office of Mr Rudd complains Englishheadline Australia needed to correct the record after a program posed several questions about Rudd’s views on the agreement in a panel discussion on the AUKUS agreement.
Englishheadline host Rita Panahi questioned Mr Rudd’s comments in a recent on air interview on Paul Murray Live about his views on AUKUS, given he is poised to become the next US Ambassador.
“Kevin Rudd has said some outrageous things, some very negative things, about the AUKUS agreement,” she said.
“Have we had any clarity yet if he’s done a 180 there? Has he said ‘I got it wrong, I got it desperately wrong, when I said this deal was not in the national interest’? And some far more colourful hyperbole that he indulged in when that deal was first announced? So do we have him pulling back from that position?
“Because that’s a fairly crucial agreement and, if our ambassador is deadest against it, I wonder how he’s going to be whispering anything to anybody.”
Mr Rudd’s taxpayer funded office complained those questions were a “false characterisation” of their boss’s earlier comments.
“This false characterisation of Dr Rudd’s record deserves swift correction,” Mr Owens wrote in the letter.
“Dr Rudd has never opposed the AUKUS agreement and never claimed it was not in the national interest.
“In fact, Dr Rudd has always supported the AUKUS policy advanced by the Prime Minister, then leader of the opposition, on 16 September 2021: that Australia must not acquire nuclear weapons; the program would not require a domestic civil nuclear industry; and it would be compatible with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
The letter quoted from Mr Rudd’s interview with Leigh Sales in 2021 as evidence he has always been supportive of AUKUS.
“I think the conditions (of AUKUS) which Anthony Albanese has articulated are probably about right… I think if these things can be clarified – but also, in addition to that, any operational expectations which the Americans would have over these units in the future – then there’s possibly a way through, but these are very serious thresholds which need to be crossed,” Mr Rudd said in the interview.
However, the letter of complaint failed to include other statements from the interview.
Mr Rudd, who served as prime minister between 2007 to 2010 and briefly again in 2013, also said in the interview that the AUKUS deal left Australia “strategically naked” and described the submarine project in general as being bungled by the Morrison government.
“But Leigh there’s talking about an 80 month delay, that’s a critical point to be made here,” Mr Rudd said.
“We’re now looking at that delay. We’re looking at, frankly, this force not being available on one reading until 2040. We are being left strategically naked for 20 years based on what I do see to be the bungling of this new submarine project, which was, after all, launched by my government in 2009.”
There are reports Australia will still not have access to the new submarines through the AUKUS agreement until the early 2040s.
The submarine rollout plan is a cornerstone feature of AUKUS, alongside increased intelligence sharing capabilities.
Media reporting from September, 2021, showed journalists at SBS interpreted Rudd’s AUKUS commentary as being negative towards the agreement.
“Mr Rudd emphasised that this decision is not in the best interest of the Australian taxpayer dollar and ‘certainly not in the best interest of Australia’s relationship with France’,” SBS reported at the time.
The reporting was based on an interview Mr Rudd gave with SBS French, in which he criticised former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“Was it simply to produce a grand surprise for Australian domestic politics that we’re now going to enter into the big league with nuclear-powered submarines with the British and the Americans?” Mr Rudd told SBS French.
“I suspect there was a domestic political agenda at play, which was for Scott Morrison to make himself look big, important and hairy-chested in dealing with his domestic Australian political audience on the nature of the China challenge. And he saw the French relationship as expendable.”
SBS also reported that Mr Rudd had written an op-ed in the French daily, Le Monde, “which was a sharp critique of AUKUS”.
Englishheadline Australia has tracked down a copy of the article in which Mr Rudd describes the AUKUS alliance as creating “doubts” among attendees of the Quad Summit and stated AUKUS would lend “grist to the mill in China’s global propaganda apparatus”.
“On the eve of the next Quad Summit in Washington, it has rekindled doubts among the other members of the Quad that there is now an inner group of the US and Australia (and now prospectively the UK) and an outer group of India and Japan – doubts already debated in Delhi following America’s unceremonious exit from Afghanistan which delivered a significant strategic win to India’s principal strategic adversary Pakistan,” Mr Rudd wrote.
“Third, Morrison’s decision has further polarised South East Asian strategic positions on China and the United States where China has already made considerable economic and foreign policy gains. And finally, it lends grist to the mill in China’s global propaganda apparatus that the public political theatre of the submarine announcement with the US and the UK is all about one single strategic objective: containment.”
The article from Le Monde was at one stage published on Kevin Rudd’s own website but it has since been removed, although the original URL iteration still exists on his website.
When The Australian reported that Mr Rudd would be made ambassador to the US if Labor won the federal election, Mr Rudd vehemently denied the story and even lodged a complaint with the press council.
The newspaper reported that then-opposition leader Anthony Albanese had told “senior party colleagues” he was in favour of appointing Mr Rudd as Australian’s next ambassador to Washington if Labor won the election.
“This is categorically false,” Mr Rudd wrote on social media.
“Here’s a letter I’ve just sent to the toothless Australian Press Council. Looking forward to their adjudication sometime in the next decade, which Murdoch will naturally ignore.”
Englishheadline Australia can reveal that despite Mr Rudd publicly tweeting out the complaint, his taxpayer funded office stopped responding to The Press Council’s inquires when they tried to follow it up.
“The complaint was closed after the individual who filed it on behalf of Mr Rudd did not respond to further correspondence from the Australian Press Council on the matter,” a Press Council spokesman said.
Mr Rudd announced in December last year that he had accepted the position of US Ambassador but has not apologised to the journalists he publicly accused of misreporting.
Australia’s future Ambassador also has no qualms with using taxpayer resources to advance his own personal activist agenda.
Late last year Mr Owens, who sent the recent letter, wrote on social media that staff in Mr Rudd’s taxpayer funded office need to be prepared to “get into mischief”.
Mr Owens described working for Mr Rudd as the perfect role for “someone of progressive disposition who doesn’t mind getting into a bit of mischief”.
“A heavy dose of foreign policy, media policy and Indigenous affairs coordinating with friends across Asia Society, Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission and the National Apology Foundation,” he said.
Mr Rudd is currently overseas working as Head of Mission in the US for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
While in the employment of DFAT, Mr Rudd is bound by the strict APS and DFAT Codes of Conduct which require its staff to act impartially at all times.
According to the DFAT Ethics, Integrity and Professional Standards Policy Manual, breaches of the Code of Conduct can result in staff, including ambassadors, losing their overseas posting.
“The Secretary may decide to withdraw an APS employee serving overseas at any time, including where the employee is alleged to have breached the Code of Conduct. A withdrawal might be for a temporary period or permanently,” the manual states.
In his US Ambassador announcement letter, Mr Rudd promised to keep his office on “non-partisan” activities.
“My former prime ministerial office in Queensland will continue to perform the range of non-partisan functions related to my time in government such as managing records, liaising with community organisations, assisting media and academics with historical research, and supporting bipartisan causes such as Indigenous reconciliation and the teaching of Asian languages in Australian schools,” he wrote.
He later admitted, through his political advisor Mr Owens, that it would be “incompatible” to be both the US Ambassador and the chair of partisan activist group Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission, a position he has since departed from.
Englishheadline Australia has asked the Department of Finance to confirm whether Mr Rudd will continue to have access to his current taxpayer funded staff when he formally becomes the US Ambassador but the department did not respond before deadline.