It’s almost inevitable that anybody who would become Prime Minister of Australia has been vetted by Washington. By the time a person is near the top job, their views on a range of issues is known. Not being utterly in thrall to America would cause angst in the corridors of power. Pressure would be applied. Julia Gillard, consider yourself approved:
US diplomats closely followed the rise of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, applauded her shedding of past Labor Left allegiances and confidently predicted she would be the next prime minister more than eight months before she deposed Kevin Rudd as federal Labor leader.
Secret United States embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and provided to The Age reveal US diplomats in Canberra paid close attention to Ms Gillard, identifying her at an early stage as the ”rising star” of the Rudd Labor government, rapidly outshining Treasurer Wayne Swan and all others.
Although an early report by ambassador Robert McCallum noted Ms Gillard was ”a loyal and competent deputy” to Mr Rudd, US diplomats had no doubt about the full extent of her political ambitions and as early as June 2008 declared her the ”front-runner” to replace Mr Rudd as Labor leader, a goal she would achieve two years later.Advertisement: Story continues below
In this context, US diplomats were anxious to establish Ms Gillard’s attitudes towards Australia’s alliance with the United States and other key foreign policy questions, especially in regard to Israel.
Numerous Labor figures were drawn by US diplomats into conversation concerning Ms Gillard’s personality and political positions with ”many key ALP insiders” quickly telling embassy officers that her past membership of the Victorian Labor Party’s Socialist Left faction meant little and that she was ”at heart a pragmatist”.
New South Wales Right powerbroker Mark Arbib described Ms Gillard as ”one of the most pragmatic politicians in the ALP”. When US embassy officers reminded Paul Howes, head of the right-wing Australian Workers Union, that ”ALP politicians from the Left, no matter how capable, do not become party leader, he said immediately: ‘But she votes with the Right.’ ”
The US embassy privately expressed pleasure at Ms Gillard’s preparedness to affirm her support for the US alliance. But there was some lingering doubt about the strength of her commitment.
”Although long appearing ambivalent about the Australia-US Alliance, Gillard’s actions since she became the Labor Party number two indicate an understanding of its importance,” the embassy reported to Washington in mid-2008.
”[US embassy political officers] had little contact with her when she was in opposition but since the election, Gillard has gone out of her way to assist the embassy.
”At our request, she agreed to meet a visiting member of the [US] National Labor Relations Board, after prior entreaties by the board members’ Australian hosts had been rebuffed.
”Although warm and engaging in her dealings with American diplomats, it’s unclear whether this change in attitude reflects a mellowing of her views or an understanding of what she needs to do to become leader of the ALP,” the embassy reported to the State Department.
”It is likely a combination of the two. Labor Party officials have told us that one lesson Gillard took from the 2004 elections was that Australians will not elect a PM who is perceived to be anti-American.”
More broadly, the US embassy noted that Labor factional differences over foreign policy had largely disappeared and that the US alliance enjoyed broad support within the Labor government.
In a further report, the embassy recorded that Victorian Labor senator David Feeney had told embassy officers that ” there is no longer any intellectual integrity in the factions” and that ”there is no major policy issue on which he, a Right factional leader, differs from Gillard”.
Senator Feeney later emerged as one of the key figures behind Ms Gillard’s election as Labor leader in June.
The embassy also applauded what it described as Ms Gillard’s ”pro-Israel” stance, reporting in October 2009 that she had ”thrown off the baggage of being from what one analyst called the ‘notoriously anti-Israel faction.’ ” of the ALP.