Kevin Rudd: In Australia, the rise of a political nerd
Earnest, bookish, and nerdy, Labor Party chief Kevin Rudd is poised to lead Australia.
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"It's been a conscious effort to make himself more of an Everyman," says Mr. Stuart. "He can mix it with the typically ocker [working-class] bloke if he has to. Australians see a genuine attempt to engage with ordinary people."Skip to next paragraph
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But despite the boyish monikers, Rudd is deadly serious, and his reputation as an intellectual is not a bad thing, says Nick Economou, a political scientist from Monash University in Melbourne.
"At the end of the day, Australians want their governments to be good governments," he says. "He's bright, capable, and conservative. He was never a unionist and he is no friend of the unions – in fact, I think he'll have some very tense relations with them. He comes across as someone who is dependable and trustworthy."
Rudd, who spent most of his career as a member of Australia's foreign service, has vowed to withdraw the country's 550 combat troops from Iraq but to leave in place the remaining 1,000 other personnel – including sailors patrolling the Persian Gulf, military training teams, and Embassy protection guards in Baghdad – who work in and around the Gulf region.
Australia has yet to suffer a single combat casualty in Iraq, but the war is not popular at home. Many Australians feel that Howard's support for his friend, President George Bush, has been too slavish and sycophantic.
Bigger role in Australia's backyard
His voracious reading had convinced him that China was the power of the future, so in 1976 he enrolled in a degree in Chinese language and history at the Australian National University in Canberra.
After graduating with first class honors, Rudd joined the Australian diplomatic service, serving in the early 1980s in Sweden before being sent to Beijing with his young wife Therese, a posting he loved.
As a committed Sinophile, analysts say Rudd is likely to strengthen the already close economic and diplomatic ties between Canberra and Beijing, while trying to maintain the all-important Anzus alliance that obligates the US, New Zealand, and Australia to work together on security concerns in the Pacific.
"I think he'd carve out a more independent world role," says Stuart. "He has deep and intimate links with America but he also wants to get along very well with China. He'll resist joining any kind of anti-China quadripartite alliance with the US, Japan, and India, of the sort that Dick Cheney is pushing for. But he'd make behind-the-scenes representations about human rights abuses; he's particularly concerned about the repression of Christians."
Still, Rudd is no pacifist – he has said he would consider increasing Australia's deployment to Afghanistan, where he believes the true fight against terrorism lies. He is also likely to continue Australia's tough interventionist stance in the immediate neighborhood, maintaining troops in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Labor has not won a federal election since 1993. If he wins this one, Rudd will be anxious to continue the 14-year run of economic growth that has made Australians wealthier than ever before.
"It will be a case of 'steady as she goes,' "says Dr. Economou. "He may wind back some of the government's industrial relations reforms, but there won't be a dramatic change."
So is Australia ready for a leader named Kevin? If the opinion polls of the last few weeks are anything to go by, the answer appears to be a resounding "yes."