Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accurately reflected the mood of the federal Cabinet when he rejected Kevin Rudd’s bid to lead the United Nations, according to deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.
Seeking to “make [it] clear” the decision was not a so-called captain’s call, Mr Joyce suggested a majority of his Cabinet colleagues were in favour of denying Mr Rudd the nomination for UN Secretary-General.
“I’ve seen some reports that this was a captain’s pick, it was not. It was a decision of Cabinet,” the Nationals leader told the ABC. “I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say it was a majority.”
If accurate, Mr Joyce’s assessment would mean Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was among a minority of Cabinet ministers who supported nominating Mr Rudd for the very senior position.
It is understood that ultimately, in the absence of a clear verdict, the Cabinet authorised Mr Turnbull to reach a decision independently and inform Mr Rudd following Thursday’s long Cabinet meeting.
That phone call was not made until Friday morning. Fairfax Media understands it lasted about 10 minutes and both men remained calm while Mr Turnbull told Mr Rudd he would not be nominated.
The PM has declined to detail the reasons why he determined Mr Rudd was “not well suited” for the role. But on Saturday Mr Joyce shifted the blame to Labor, saying the party’s public character assassinations of Mr Rudd after he was deposed as PM made it difficult to give him the nod.
Over the years, Labor figures have delivered stinging character assassinations of their former leader, variously dubbing him a narcissist, psychopath and megalomaniac.
“We were lumbered with … a compendium of events, of absolutely clear character references, predominantly by the Labor Party when they removed him,” Mr Joyce said. “It would just be thrown back in our face.”
It came as Labor leader Bill Shorten, returning from a week’s vacation, labelled Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision “pathetic” and “disappointing”, and an example of “petty politics”.
The PM had “squibbed the chance to be a leader”, Mr Shorten said, in order to “paper over the divisions in the Liberal Party”.
But Mr Joyce said Mr Shorten’s own actions, specifically his involvement in removing Mr Rudd as prime minister in 2010, demonstrated Mr Rudd was unfit for the high office he now sought.
The former PM responded to the rejection by releasing private correspondence that suggested Mr Turnbull had promised Mr Rudd his support on at least three occasions.
A spokeswoman for the PM rejected much of that characterisation, and said Mr Rudd was told as early as December that the matter would have to go to Cabinet.
Late on Friday night, Mr Rudd posted a series of tweets thanking supporters, specifically “Foreign Minister [Julie] Bishop and her ministerial colleagues”.
He also lamented that there “won’t be an Australian candidate” for the role of UN Secretary-General. The job was considered more likely to go to an Eastern European candidate in any case.
Mr Turnbull is understood to be angry that the comparatively minor issue has come to dominate headlines in recent days. But it is widely seen as a proxy for tensions between the Coalition’s moderate and right-wing tribes, and a test of the prime minister’s loyalties.