Kevin Rudd’s resignation surprised many of us as the former Prime Minister seemed to have a long and eventful political career still ahead of him.
In his speech before Parliament he revealed some of the reasons for his decision, and then went on to list a number of his remaining international and domestic goals.
A contribution to ‘peace and stability’
Among these was a desire “to be active in the international community in areas where I can make a genuine contribution to peace and stability”. He would also like to raise Australia’s international reputation as a country to whom “the rest of the world [would look] to help provide answers to the challenges facing humankind”.
Domestically, Mr. Rudd also pledged his energies to a number of causes that will bolster “the future of multicultural Australia”, including interfaith dialogue.
These are ambitious objectives indeed, put forward in lofty speech typical of Mr. Rudd. But I wonder if Mr. Rudd recognises that his vision is not lofty enough to achieve his ambitions, that, in fact, “to make a difference for all” in the areas he listed, he needs to dream more broadly.
For example, Mr. Rudd’s vision does not appear to recognise that his international and domestic objectives actually go hand-in-hand.
Interfaith relations are increasingly important international issues, encompassing diverse countries in our region including Fiji, Samoa, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Burma. For instance, the relationship between interfaith dialogue and regional security was the focus of the 6th Regional Interfaith Dialogue in Semarang, Indonesia, last year, which looked at interfaith action as a means of promoting regional peace and security.
Having a broader vision of the role of interfaith dialogue would potentially strengthen Australia internationally and domestically. The probable impact of Mr. Rudd’s post-parliamentary leadership on this issue would be substantial and should not be underestimated. Combining Australia’s political and economic clout with Mr. Rudd’s ability to bring international attention and resources to bear for interfaith peace and security could prove significant both at home and abroad. Furthermore, Australia’s cultural and religious diversity is a strong and vibrant model that, despite its flaws and challenges, Mr. Rudd would be well served to showcase to the world and which positions him to be a legitimate contributor.
However, even coupling some of his international and domestic ambitions, Mr. Rudd’s lofty vision is still not broad enough to have the impact he apparently desires. If, as he said, his interest is “to make a difference for the benefit of all”, including in the areas of interfaith understanding and peace, then his vision must engage more broadly with the role of faith in our Western, secular systems. It must also address the growing secular-religious differences that divide our society.
Facilitator of secular-religious dialogue
The fact is, given his unique background and experience, Mr. Rudd would be an ideally suited facilitator of secular-religious dialogue. He could lead discussions on the role of law as a mediator between secular and faith-based communities. He could highlight the media’s role and responsibility in reporting on and portraying these different perspectives. He could encourage the inclusion of both secular and faith perspectives in decision-making processes that impact our communities. And he could use his international networks to make significant international events, such as the G20 Leaders Summit next year, platforms for broader, international discussions on these issues.
Our former Prime Minister has a promising post-parliamentary future. He has energy, ambition and influence in spades. All he needs to do is broaden his vision of the next step and he could make a lasting contribution towards a just, peaceful society in which people of all cultures, faith traditions and philosophical views can feel safe to openly practice their beliefs.