Kevin Rudd has met with President Joe Biden in Washington, starting his new role as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States.
The former prime minister and his wife Therese attended the White house on Wednesday, local time, to officially present his credentials.
Speaking at a short press conference following his meeting with the US President, Mr Rudd doubled down on his position on AUKUS.
Asked about his previous comments in 2021, describing the submarine deal as leaving Australia “strategically naked”, Mr Rudd maintained he had “always supported” AUKUS.
“My position in relation to AUKUS is pretty clear. I’ve always supported it, and the questions I raised then as a think-tanker have subsequently been addressed by the Australian government in its dealings with the United States government,” he said.
“I think it’s important to understand the accuracy what’s been said in the past and what we’re committed to today.
“The bottom line is, AUKUS has bipartisan support in Australia, bipartisan support in the United Kingdom and bipartisan support here in the United States.
“Given where we are in the world, given the extraordinary strategic challenges we face, that level of sustained bipartisanship will be necessary through the 2020s and beyond.”
He said AUKUS was a “huge priority for both governments”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed Mr Rudd as Australia’s new US Ambassador in December last year, after months of speculation over whether the former Labor leader would take on the international posting.
Mr Rudd is the first former prime minister to receive the position in Washington.
He said one of the reasons he was chosen for the role was tackle the challenges posed by China’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
“One of the reasons the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister asked me to come here, was to deal with the challenge we all face with the challenge presented by China’s rise and maintaining strategic stability, doing so in partnership with our allied United States while at the same time stabilising our relationship with Beijing,” he said.
“So that’s one thing I’ll be working on.”
The former prime minister said he would further help advise Canberra on economic opportunities available to Australia in the US, sustainability and climate change and energy security.
Mr Rudd also noted the US’s relationship with China had deteriorated, describing it as “really difficult”.
In his role, Mr Rudd said he would work with the Biden administration, subject to the Australian government’s guidance, to help stabilise the China-US relationship.
While the pair “didn’t get down into a whole of detail” in the meeting, the challenges presented by China were raised.
“If you look day to day, week to week in the South China Sea… what are we all worried about? We’re worried about the possibility of crisis and conflict arising by accident through collision of aircraft, collision of vessels,” Mr Rudd told reporters on Wednesday.
“So under those circumstances, what is important is for all of us to work with our friends in DC and our friends in Beijing on building what Foreign Minister Wong calls ‘strategic guardrails’ around this critical relationship.
“So reduce the risk of crisis, conflict and war by accident and that is a core thing, a core challenge for the moment.”
Mr Rudd said he had a “good conversation” with Mr Biden, highlighting the President was looking forward to coming down under.
“The most important thing is the President’s really looking forward to getting to Australia and we’re looking forward to welcoming him in the next few months when he makes the trek down under,” Mr Rudd said.
“This is an extraordinarily important relationship for our country, both on questions of national security, but also on the economy and climate. These are near and dear to the President’s heart as well.
“So Therese and I had a great time in the White House, catching up with some other friends on staff who we’ve known for more years than we now care to remember.”
He did not reveal further details about when Mr Biden planned to visit Australia.