Casino boss James Packer has criticised former prime minister and foreign minister Kevin Rudd, accusing him of damaging Australia’s relations in Asia during his time in office.
Describing himself as a “big fan” of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr Packer said Mr Rudd had weakened Australia’s ties in the region by lecturing foreign leaders.
“I think the truth is that Australia’s relationships with China, Japan, India and Indonesia probably all went backwards over the past five years,” Mr Packer told Fairfax Radio 3AW on Tuesday.
“[T]he last thing I’d want to do is speak ill of someone who doesn’t have a job any more but I do think that the governments in between the Howard and the Abbott governments didn’t do a great job in terms of strengthening ties in the region.
“I think when you go around and lecture people, and I think you know who I’m talking about, some people don’t take that well – and especially if you position yourself as a foreign policy expert.”
Asked directly whether Mr Rudd had damaged Australia’s relations in Asia, Mr Packer said that was his view.
The Crown Casino chairman, who is a member of the business delegation accompanying the Prime Minister on his tour of Asia, has eyes on new casino ventures in Japan and South Korea. He is also pushing for the Australian government to relax visa rules to make it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Australia.
Mr Packer, whose wealth was valued at $7.7 billion in 2013 by BRW, said he had been impressed by the “personal chemistry” between Mr Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the trip.
He said the fact that Mr Abbott would be accompanied by business leaders and all Australian premiers on his trip to China showed he was treating the country with the respect and seriousness it deserves.
Mr Rudd majored in Chinese language and history at Australian National University, wrote his thesis on Chinese democracy activist Wei Jingsheng and served as a diplomat in Beijing.
In a major speech to Peking university during his first visit to China as prime minister in 2008, Kevin Rudd raised the sensitive issue of human rights abuses in Tibet and vowed to pursue the issue with Chinese leaders. This drew a rebuke from the Chinese leadership and, later, veiled criticism from Australia’s then-ambassador to China.
“To speak Chinese is not to know China,” ambassador Geoff Raby said in 2011. “Many examples can be found of people who speak Mandarin to a high level but who do not understand how China works.”
In February Mr Rudd took up a role at Harvard University leading a major research project on China-United States relations.