George W Bush was lucky – during his two terms in the White House he got to deal with one – and good one – Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. By the time Kevin Rudd was elected in late 2007, Bush was a lame duck on the way to his Texan retirement. President Obama, on the other hand, had Rudd, Julia Gillard, Rudd again, Tony Abbott and finally Malcolm Turnbull. The main responsibility of the Australian ambassador to Washington was probably reminding the President who is in charge of Australia any particular week:
Ben Rhodes, who spent eight years in the White House serving as Mr Obama’s deputy national security adviser and foreign policy speechwriter, knew more about his boss than almost anyone.
In an interview with The Australian, promoting his new book The World as It Is, Rhodes admitted Mr Obama had a “very difficult” relationship with Mr Abbott due to their opposing world views.
He said he found his successor Mr Turnbull, who he described as part of “the mainstream of Centre-Right” leaders, more palatable.
Of the four prime ministers, Mr Obama arguably had the best relationship with Ms Gillard.
They immediately struck up a rapport when they first met in the White House back in 2011. He described her as a “quick study”, praising her for getting her carbon price through parliament.
Political commentator Michelle Grattan noted in the Sydney Morning Herald that, while John Howard and George W. Bush had a more solemn, “emotionally based” relationship, Ms Gillard’s and Mr Obama’s was one of “professional easiness”.
In photos they were genuinely physically affectionate, and they’re said to still be in touch.
Mr Obama also enjoyed an amicable relationship with former Labor leader Kevin Rudd, with Grattan noting the two “connected at an intellectual level”.
She also said Mr Obama had “considerable interest in (Mr Rudd’s) China expertise”.
No surprises there that Obama didn’t get along with conservative Abbott, a man differing to him both in ideas and in style. On the other hand, Obama did get along quite well with the three Labor Prime Ministers. The delight for Obama is that he can now catch up with all three of them at home in the US, Rudd and Turnbull in New York and Gillard in Washington DC whenever she’s at work at the Global Partnership for Education. You can keep ’em all, America. Sorry not sorry.