Rudd’s Chinese walls

Australia’s leading Sinophile (in his own estimation), Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, has fallen victim to hubris. Hardly surprising given his penchant for trusting no-one’s advice but his own instincts. Still, the cost of his latest example of egregious expenditure rather takes the breath away.

To indulge his own personal whims, Rudd intends to ‘steal’ $100 million of taxpayer funds over the coming decade. He is going to lavish this largesse on his beloved alma mater – the Australian National University. Ostensibly this initiative is to establish a significant research centre on China. Realistically it is to promote Kevin Rudd to a very select global audience (primarily his leadership peers but also to a raft of academics).

Rudd harbours a deep need to be seen as a global statesman. To some extent there is value for Australia in this egotism. Despite our comparatively miniscule population base we do have a role to play in world affairs and we should never be insecure or hesitant to raise our voice. Being seen as an upstart, though, by leaders with real clout can lead to payback that is damaging to our national interests. Rudd should be careful not to overstep the mark but he’ll go his own way, regardless.

What he should consider is how this will play to a domestic audience, many of whom have deep-seated concerns about China’s burgeoning economic influence over Australia’s fiscal fortunes. Xenophobia is never pleasant but many voters clearly have concerns about China’s long-term ambitions – and their view of the world’s second superpower is at a marked variance to the PM himself.

The interesting aspect of Rudd’s love of China and desire to be seen as potentially the pre-eminent Western leader in terms of understanding of this opaque nation is how soured relations with China have become under Rudd’s administration. There was a period of several months during this past year when frosty would have been seen as a thawing of relations between us. For one who thinks he has a special relationship with China, Rudd got rebuffed in a way that might still leave some lingering tinnitus.

It is also interesting to note the ALP influence at ANU. The Chancellor is Labor stalwart Kim Beazley and he is about to be replaced by another hubristically-challenged fellow-traveller, Gareth Evans. The gifting of $100 million of taxpayer funds to such a cosy Labor coterie surely smacks of playing favourites at the very best and has more than a whiff of corruption about it otherwise.

Which gives rise to the question: Did you ask us to support this whim in your pre-election manifesto, Kevin? No. Not a word. Guess it just occurred to you lately that since you were squandering some $42 billion on a stimulus package you might as well earmark some of that to give yourself a little titillation. All of us hope it doesn’t keep you awake at night. Perhaps Therese feels the same way?