Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

FactCheck: did Kevin Rudd help create the G20?

“I think people are all excited about the fact that when the G20 is hosted in Australia next year, the G20 Finance [Ministers] will be meeting here in Cairns in far north Queensland… of course, that exists…

Crisis talks: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, September 2009. AAP Image/AUSPIC, Michael Jones

“I think people are all excited about the fact that when the G20 is hosted in Australia next year, the G20 Finance [Ministers] will be meeting here in Cairns in far north Queensland… of course, that exists as a possibility because our government during my Prime Ministership has made it possible for Australia to become a member of the G20, in fact, we helped create the institution.” - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, press conference in Cairns, 14 August.

This isn’t the first time the Prime Minister has mentioned his role in creating the Group of 20, better known as the G20. The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote an article on 5 August criticising Rudd for “reinventing history” on the G20:

“Kevin Rudd’s first press conference of the 2013 election campaign contained a gross foreign policy inaccuracy. The Prime Minister said, with an apparent shrug of modesty, that he was involved in founding the G20 in 2008… Both these claims are completely ahistorical, or to put it another way, no such thing ever happened.”

Greg Sheridan’s article, 5 August 2013. The Australian

Sheridan also wrote: “If any Australian was involved in the founding of the G20, it was Peter Costello, who was treasurer in 1999”.

So who’s telling the truth: Rudd or Sheridan? Actually, both are partially correct.

Australia’s role in shaping the G20

The G20 is made up of 19 major industrial nations including Australia, plus the European Union. It brings together leaders, finance ministers and central bank governors for meetings to discuss pressing global economic and financial issues.

Kevin Rudd and Peter Costello have both been influential figures in shaping two separate phases of the G20’s evolution.

In 1999, the G20 started as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. Australia was invited to join.

The Atlantic has suggested that then Australian Prime Minister John Howard had urged China to create a new leaders-level institution in 1999. But Howard himself has never made such a claim.

However, then Treasurer Peter Costello was an important figure among the G20 finance ministers, as acknowledged by the University of Toronto’s G20 Information Centre in their 54-page history commissioned and prepared by member countries.

Costello reflected on this role in his farewell speech to Parliament in 2009, and in his memoirs, where he in fact credits Bill Clinton with a lead role.

In November 2008, the first G20 leaders’ summit was held in Washington DC, and the group played a key role in responding to the global financial crisis.

Professor Xu Yi-Chong from Griffith University has written that Kevin Rudd is often credited with bringing the leaders of the G20 together for this first summit in September 2008. She cites comments by then World Bank President Robert Zoellick to the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove that Rudd:

“established himself as a catalyst for better multilateral policy-making. Much of this work was behind the scenes, a combination of smarts, humour and attention to personalities.”

In 2009, the Obama administration’s most senior US official on Asian policy, Kurt Campbell, paid tribute to Rudd’s “decisive” role in bringing about the new G20 leaders' summits, which Campbell told Sheridan in The Australian was “the biggest innovation in global politics in decades”.

It is also clear that Rudd paid careful attention and devoted energy to the G20 leaders' process, as noted in a 2011 speech. And it is true that Rudd lobbied to have the G20 held in Australia.

Other Australians are also seen as well-regarded figures in the development of G20 processes by their peers, including Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens, former Treasury official Mike Callaghan (now at the Lowy Institute), and Australian sherpa, Prime Minister & Cabinet Deputy Secretary Gordon de Brouwer.

Most G20 commentators would probably credit Canada’s Paul Martin as the key figure or “founder” of the leaders' process. Then Canada’s Minister of Finance, Martin was chosen by the G7 to be the new G20’s first chairman for a two-year term, ending in October 2001.

It is not surprising that Australian leaders from both side of politics spend energy on influencing the G20, as Australia’s national interest clearly lies in strengthening the G20 and securing its membership in these key global economic discussions.

Verdict

Kevin Rudd is partly right. Rudd is widely acknowledged as having worked hard and played a key role in bringing the G20 leaders together in 2008, and those ongoing leaders' meetings have made the G20 a more influential institution.

However, Australia was already a member of the G20 finance ministers process since 1999. The Liberals deserve credit for their role during this period, especially Peter Costello, so Greg Sheridan’s recent article was right on this point.

Susan Harris Rimmer will be attending the G20 Leaders Summit in St Petersburg in early September and will report for The Conversation.


Review

This article is correct in saying that Kevin Rudd and Peter Costello have both been influential in shaping two separate phases of the G20’s evolution.

Costello was influential in Australia becoming a member of the G20 when it was established, with the first meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors held in Berlin in 1999.

Paul Martin, then Canadian Finance Minister, was instrumental in the establishment of the G20 process and chaired the forum for the first two years of its existence. Sometimes referred to as “the father of the G20”, in the mid-1990s Martin advocated that the G20 be elevated to a leader level process. But this did not receive traction until the global financial crisis.

The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors met annually until November 2008 when US President George W. Bush called a meeting of G20 leaders. Rudd actively lobbied for such a meeting of G20 leaders to deal with the financial crisis, and he was actively engaged in the first few G20 leaders’ summits.

In short, Costello was involved in Australia becoming a member of the G20 - well before the Rudd government was elected - but Rudd was involved in the G20 being elevated to a leader-level summit. - Mike Callaghan

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.

Request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Join the conversation

15 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Darin Ritchie

    logged in via Twitter

    If Rudd had stated he and/or his government had been instrumental in elevating the G20 to a leaders-level summit, then I think the verdicts offered would be sound.

    However, Rudd's claim goes beyond that, and he specifically refers to the G20 finance ministers meeting, and then claims his government "made it possible for Australia to become a member of the G20, in fact, we helped create the institution". Rudd is attempting to take credit for the creation of the G20, including the finance ministers group.

    The claim is particularly outrageous given this is not the first time that Rudd has exaggerated his influence when it comes to the G20. I think a reasonable verdict would be to declare his statement false, but allow for an acknowledgment of his role (however, minor) in brining together the G20 leaders in 2008.

    report
    1. N Wilson

      Biologist

      In reply to Darin Ritchie

      I didn't know about the G20 genesis and it isn't a particularly big fact to check, given the clangers going around that are being buried, eg Abbott's claim it will take 80 years to build the NBN in Tasmania.

      I read this and can't see that within the normal bounds of communication and especially off the cuff pollie speak, how Rudd's 'we helped create the institution' is right. As in 'we helped to create the institution [as it is today]'. The fact Costello might also have helped 'create' it is irrelevant and whether a Canadian or anyone else did more than Rudd is also irrelevant.

      Sheridan is fundamentally compromised by his agenda. The 'outrage' by him and other Liberal supporters seems confected as it is over a small point that is largely semantic.

      report
    2. N Wilson

      Biologist

      In reply to N Wilson

      Whoops. Serious typo. I meant to say '...how Rudd's claim is *not* right'.

      report
    3. Darin Ritchie

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to N Wilson

      The trap of the double negative ;)

      While it is possible that Rudd's intent was, as you suggest, to imply that his government has contributed to the evolution of the G20, I would contend however that given Rudd's form on this and other issues that he was in fact engaging in rhetorical over-reach.

      While in the broader context of the issues in this election the fact that Rudd engages in a bit of self aggrandisement may seem trivial, but this is just another example of the man's good contributions…

      Read more
    4. Brad Parkinson

      University Tutor at School of Psychology, University of Wollongong

      In reply to Darin Ritchie

      I don't think the claim "we helped create" can be interpreted as "we alone created". I think the outrageous part of this whole thing is people trying to exaggerate others claims so that then they can label them as outrageous. No points scored for an invented claim. Do you really think that no help was given by the Labour Government. If so then that should be the claim that is disputed and not the claim that was not made. They did not state that they created anything let along the G20. The acknowledgement of a role in the process is an acknowledgement of the claim that they helped to create.

      report
  2. Christopher Lamb

    Humanitarian Adviser at University of Melbourne

    It's good to have had this FactCheck. Australian politicians frequently assert their role in international events, but the real fact is that few are able to substantiate their claims. In the case of the G-20, it is fair to say that both were "involved", but this doesn't justify the hype. A lot of people can say they were involved, and it is true that Rudd has been a catalytic figure in better multilateral policy-making (as Zoellick said) but it is drawing a long bow for Rudd to say he was a creator. MIke Callaghan's review helps make all these roles clear, but many thanks to Susan Harris Rimmer for her article and her reports from St Petersburg will be most welcome.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Christopher Lamb

      Christopher, what on earth is an "Humanitarian Adviser"? Is this a paid position, by the taxpayer?

      report
    2. Christopher Lamb

      Humanitarian Adviser at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Thompson

      David, I spent the greater part of my working life on humanitarian activity and am now providing advice to a variety of national and international organisations and NGOs. Why do you think it might be relevant for me to be taxpayer funded?

      report
    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Christopher Lamb

      Well you work for Melbourne University. Parkville was hardly Mogadishu when I last visited.

      report
    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Great. And the relevance of that to Melbourne University hiring a "Humanitarian Adviser" is what, exactly?

      report
  3. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    Didn't Kevin Rudd invent the Internet, too?

    report
  4. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    Your are all wrong on the G20Summit, including Susan Rimmer, Nike Callaghan and Greg Sheridan. What hopes is there for Australia if no one can get anything right anymore.

    You "duffers" are talking about the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers summits that started a long time ago as the G33, then became the G22 and in 1999 it was further reduced to the G20. That is the ones that Peter Costello got a "Guernsey" too. Trust him to try and exclude smaller countries if that is what he and Sheridan…

    Read more
    1. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      For the pedantic readers I meant GDP in the penultimate paragraph, not GST. The revenue shortfall of $54 billion is shocking and correct.

      report