Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers

Yesterday afternoon former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (November 2007-June 2010) and current Foreign Minister under his successor, Julia Gillard, was in suburban Melbourne to speak at a community forum on Australia's foreign aid program.

However, unlike Ms Gillard, Rudd is an engaging speaker, so it made the content of his presentation, with lots of facts and figures, easier to digest. Every year the Australian government spends $4.5 billion on foreign aid. As a rich country Australia can contribute to alleviating poverty in the developing world. It's in our national interest to do so. For one thing the poor and disaffected often fall in with political extremists and terrorist groups. Foreign aid is used to fund education, micro-finance, and other initiatives to improve the living conditions and longer term prospects of the poor. The foreign aid budget is well managed and independently audited. If only all of this government's programs were as well run as this one, but that's another issue.

After his presentation, Rudd took questions from the audience. His answers were a bit long-winded, but it was all very relaxed and informal. Everyone addressed him as "Kevin" and not "Mister Rudd." As a former diplomat, he is also famously fluent in Mandarin, so he had a short exchange with a Mandarin speaker in the audience. 

After the forum Rudd mingled with the audience and was happy to pose for pictures with people. I introduced myself to him and shook his hand, and we chatted briefly. My impression was that he came across as warm and approachable. The mood might have changed somewhat had I mentioned my indirect family connections to the Liberal Party. On a personal level, it was exciting to have the opportunity to meet a former Australian Prime Minister. I also consider myself blessed that I live in a country where we don't have political violence and assassinations, which makes it possible for such an event to take place.

No comments: