Politics before Principle – bidding for the UN Secretary General’s job

The aborted attempt of former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd for the United Nation’s top job of Secretary-General is a missed opportunity for Australia.

For a middle power, Australia likes to see itself as “punching above its weight” in diplomatic circles. During Australia’s tenure with a seat of the Security Council – which ended in 2015 – Australia drove many important reforms relating to humanitarian assistance to Syria, human rights in North Korea and a global response to the downed Malysia Airlines jet MH17.


The odds were stacked against Rudd from the start despite his qualifications. It is likely that the position will go to a candidate from Eastern Europe due to a “revolving” globe policy. The current post is held by a South Korean, before that a Ghanian, before that an Egyptian.

It is also time for the United Nations General Assembly to elect a woman.

Rudd’s credentials includes a depth of experience engaging with the United Nations at a time in which the multilateral system faces an unprecedented attack with the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s disdain for multilateralism. His other achievements include leading the apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples and driving Climate Change negotiations.

It is a surprise that the nomination of Rudd was eclipsed by party politics. Matters of foreign policy typically attract bipartisan support. It now emerges that Turnbull had previously expressed support for Rudd’s nomination in personal communications between Rudd and Turnbull.

The United Nations General Assembly

Opponents of the former New Zealand Prime Minister and head of the United Nations Development Programme Helen Clarke supported her nomination for the United Nations Secretary-General. Australia would do well to support her too.

Other candidates for the United Nations top job have attracted controversy. The candidacy of Argentinian born Susana Malcorra, the current Foreign Minister for that country, has been opposed by the United Kingdom because of her support for  the return of the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

The Secretary-General is appointed by the United Nations General Assembly, on recommendation of the five permanent members of the Security Council, who can veto any decision. The members of the Security Council are France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and China. There are also ten non-permanent Security Council positions.


This year, candidates for the position took part in a televised and webcast debate in the General Assembly hall, where they spruiked their suitability for the job. The idea for the debates had its genesis in the idea that the process should be more inclusive and transparent.

During that debate, Helen Clark talked about the need for the United Nations to stay relevant and for reform to “clunky” and “clumsy” processes.

Watch this space on humanrightsandthings.org for continuous commentary on the selection of the United Nations Secretary-General.









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