Rudd: I had a 'real shot' at UN Secretary-General

Kevin Rudd (AAP)
Kevin Rudd (AAP)

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd believed he had "real shot" at the United Nations Secretary-General post, and says all signals before he was spurned by his government were positive.

Mr Rudd has given his first interview since current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled him unfit to nominate for the position against Helen Clark and 11 others.

In it, he told The Australian he'd been in discussions about the possible UN tilt since the Tony Abbott-led Coalition was voted in to government in 2013.

He'd consistently discussed the issues with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as well as Mr Turnbull, first as Communications Minister, since the decision was made by caucus and the Prime Minister to back him.

Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull had met on a number of occasions, including at Mr Turnbull's home in Sydney eight months before he took over from Mr Abbott.

"We had a general conversation about Australian politics at the time. We had always had a strong social relationship. It was a very pleasant occasion. It was myself, his wife, Lucy, the three of us.

"As I was heading out to get the car to the airport, this was quite explicitly stated: that the government would be mad not to support my candidature."

Shortly after Mr Turnbull seized power, the pair met again in his office in Canberra.

Mr Rudd recalled the Prime Minister "asked which governments would need to be lobbied and then proceeded to take a list... Mr Turnbull was completely supportive but that was unremarkable because it was entirely consistent with a long series of conversations".

"I was completely affirmed," Mr Rudd said.

"I continued to go about my business of unofficially speaking to governments around the world about myself, which I had been doing for some time."

During that time as well, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had supported the bid and Mr Rudd blames Mr Turnbull for the decision.

"If at any stage Foreign Minister Bishop had reached a judgment that the candidature was no longer capable of being supported in Australia, I know her well enough to know she would simply have told me in black and white."

The first sign Mr Rudd got from Mr Turnbull that he wouldn't back him for the UN job was a phone call at JFK airport in New York on April 4 this year which "caught [him] utterly by surprise".

It came weeks after he'd wrote to him and Ms Bishop formally seeking support for his nomination.

"I was genuinely stunned by the abrupt change in tone. Mr Turnbull stated that no one in the government supported my candidature. He stated that no one in the Labor Party supported my candidature. And he therefore did not regard me as being suitable to be nominated by the government."

It was later that Ms Bishop suggested the caucus make its decision post-Election when there'd be a more positive environment to make the call. The Cabinet met on July 28.

In the lead up to the decision, Mr Rudd said he got "no such sense from any Australian government minister or official" that they'd turn him down.

At a news conference on July 28, Mr Turnbull declined to answer questions about the Cabinet's decision saying he had to call Mr Rudd first.

It was then Mr Rudd flew to Sydney with the intention to meet Mr Turnbull where they spoke over the phone in a private lounge.

"Mr Turnbull said that in his judgment I had neither the interpersonal skills nor the temperament to be a candidate for UNSG."

Mr Rudd says it is up to those in the international community to judge what the decision meant for Australia's foreign policy.

However, he said domestic politics weren't "some sort of local barnyard event" and were looked at seriously overseas.

"There is a great opportunity for an Australian voice, mine or somebody else's, to try to bring reason to the troubled state of our global discourse. I'm not your perfect candidate. Nobody is, in this horrible world in which we live. But my simple aspiration was to be able to have a go."