(Reuters) – Australia’s foreign policy and strategic reliance upon the United States will be unlikely to change after Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister, analysts said on Friday.
Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s first female prime minister on Thursday after the ruling Labor Party dumped Rudd due to falling opinion poll support ahead of elections due before the end of the year.
She spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday, and told reporters she remained committed to the 60-year Australia-U.S. strategic alliance and would maintain Australian forces in Afghanistan.
“Nothing will change. I can’t see that she will make any changes to foreign policy,” Michael McKinley, from the Australian National University’s school of international relations, told Reuters on Friday.
“She has reassured the Americans that Australia will be as obsequious as we have been in the past. And I can’t see her changing our commitment in Afghanistan, or to the U.S. alliance.”
Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, kept tight control over the foreign affairs portfolio. Gillard, however, is likely to focus more on domestic issues as she tries to rebuild voter support ahead of national polls expected around October.
That means Gillard could retain Stephen Smith as foreign minister when she announces her cabinet, although there is strong speculation she could give Rudd the foreign affairs portfolio as a consolation for losing the prime ministership.
“If Rudd wants it, he would get it,” McKinley said, adding Rudd might prefer not to join the Gillard cabinet until after an election.
Andrew O’Neil, director of the Asia Institute at Griffith University, said it would be difficult to see any changes in Australia’s key relationships under Gillard because the Labor Party was committed to a strong regional focus.
“But it is equally hard to see how she will be able to match Rudd’s natural affinity with, and genuine knowledge of, Asian affairs,” O’Neil wrote on the website of foreign affairs think tank the Lowy Institute on Friday.
“The fall of Kevin Rudd also robs President Barack Obama of one of his key political allies on Afghanistan, climate change, and global economic reform. The two have struck up a close working relationship — an ideal fit as two like-minded policy wonks — and Obama will probably miss Rudd’s close counsel on these, and other, issues,” he said.
Foreign policy analyst Graeme Dobell, in a column for the Lowy Institute, said Gillard would make little difference to the key U.S. relationship.
“Australia has its first left-wing Labor prime minister in a lifetime, but one thing that will not change is Labor’s adherence to the U.S. alliance,” Dobell said on the institute’s website (www.lowyinterpreter.org/).