Kevin Rudd has questioned whether Tony Abbott has the “temperament” to deal with foreign issues, notably the Syrian crisis.
The Prime Minister said Abbott lacked a background in foreign affairs and had “a bit of an impulsive nature”.
“This stuff is complex and in diplomacy, words are bullets and you’ve just got to remember that”, Rudd said in an interview with the Seven Network.
His comments are reminiscent of Paul Keating in the 1996 campaign suggesting Asian leaders would be reluctant to deal with John Howard if he became PM.
If Tony Abbott wins on Saturday week, he would quickly find himself having to take stands on the Syrian crisis and other major foreign issues, especially as Australia takes over the chair of the United Nations Security Council within days.
Rudd early today had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama about Syria. He told reporters the president was consulting with allies and partners about where the evidence pointed in terms of responsibility for the chemical weapons attacks, and what now must be done by the international community. “We had a detailed conversation about those two points.”
Rudd said tonight: “There are, in my judgement, difficult times which lie ahead. And I sometimes question, I really do question, having known Mr Abbott for a long, long time, whether he really has the temperament for that sort of thing. Because you have to sit back, think, calmly reflect and then work through what the best decision is.
"And temperament and judgement and experience are quite important,” Rudd said.
“Sometimes I find in him a bit of an impulsive nature. That is, rushing ahead to a judgement…
"He’s been in parliament for 20 years, 19 of which he was the great pugilist, you know. In the last 12 months he’s suddenly become the statesman.
"So the Tony Abbott that I know, having served 15 years in the parliament with him, is of a different nature.”
Rudd said he did not think it was wrong to raise the matter of Abbott’s temperament.
“I don’t challenge Mr Howard’s temperament on those questions, I wouldn’t challenge even Malcolm Turnbull’s temperament on these sort of questions because he has a degree of background in dealing with these complex questions. But I think Mr Abbott is a little different.”
Rudd said there was a deep universal principle at stake in dealing with the Syria crisis.
That was, if the response to a regime “which turns these weapons on kids and on women and on families … and slaughters people in large numbers” was to simply say “it’s all too hard and it’s too far away and we’ll just wave that through to the keeper”, that established “a precedent for the future for other bad regimes elsewhere. … This will require a response which is appropriate of the circumstances. You cannot let this pass by.”