I hope those of you who are not interested in Australian politics will read no further. For those of you who are however then I will, at the request of a regular reader, try to explain what I believe our new Prime Minister is trying to do.
Let it be said here that Mr Rudd is a very experienced diplomat. He knows, even if he does not like it, what can and cannot be said in the public (and even the private) arena. He has lived abroad. He speaks (some) Chinese and Swedish. He likes the world stage.
All that being so his comments almost immediately after his reinstatement in the position of Prime Minister at first appear to be inexplicable. He made the highly contentious statement that, should the current Opposition be elected then we risked war with Indonesia because of the Opposition's policy of "turning back the boats if it is safe to do so". I must explain here that "turning back the boats" the Opposition means towing boats of "asylum seekers" back to the edge of Indonesian waters, quietly informing the Indonesian government and making sure the boat returns to Indonesia. It is a policy designed to put "people smuggling" out of business and thus save lives.
It is a contentious policy that has many detractors, mostly among activists who like to believe that everyone who sets sail for Australia in this way is a genuinely desperate refugee able to pay at least $15,000 for the trip. I will not discuss the status of those passengers here.
When the Opposition was previously in power it did turn back boats. It did not, as is sometimes suggested, turn back hundreds or even dozens of boats. It did not turn back vessels which were in distress and unlikely to make it. It did not enter Indonesian territorial waters and it did not break any international maritime or humanitarian laws. They turned back seven boats in total - and reduced the problem of "boat arrivals" almost to a standstill. The Opposition also added a policy of "Temporary Protection Visas" for people who attempted to bypass official channels. Arrivals through alternative means were significantly reduced. In short it was a good policy which worked. It saved lives. (There was and is still a problem of people who overstay their visas.)
Australia was still taking in the quota of refugees it stated it would take - and they were taking them from recognised sources, mostly humanitarian camps run by the United Nations. People from those camps have often waited for years for a place to go.
As a system it was considered by many to be fair and reasonable but some high profile activists caused, and continue to cause doubt about it. The new Prime Minister is clearly worried about their potential to influence public opinion. He was leader at the time that the policy of turning back the boats was dismantled. To change it now could be politically disastrous for him. He is within a whisker of winning the election. If he does not win the election it will be the end of his political career.
Claims are being made that Australia will be at war with Indonesia, that turning back the boats is not possible, that it breaches international law and our humanitarian obligations and that it is "too dangerous". None of these things are true and are privately conceded not to be true by those who would have to implement any such policies. Nobody says it would be easy but those who would have to implement it say it could be done - and should be done.
It is, I believe, for that reason that he has made those remarks. He is endeavouring to do the unthinkable. He is endeavouring to bring a third party from another country into the Australian election campaign. He is endeavouring to use Australia's sometimes awkward relationship with Indonesia as a means of gaining votes. It appears to be an appalling diplomatic gaffe. It appears to be reckless, irresponsible and inexplicable coming from a man with so much diplomatic experience.
My own guess is that it is none of those things. Mr Rudd knows exactly what he is doing - or what he thinks he can do. It has been a calculated move. It is designed to inflict maximum electoral damage on the Opposition. Far from being reckless Mr Rudd almost certainly believes that his diplomatic skills are such that he can use Indonesia's Prime Minister to win an election here without doing any damage to the relationship.
It is a monstrous display of personal arrogance - and suggests the leopard has not changed its spots.