Kevin Rudd says Malcolm Turnbull reneged on previous support for UN job

Rudd releases letters he says show the prime minister had supported his candidacy for UN secretary general, before ultimately refusing to back him

Kevin Rudd says Malcolm Turnbull gave him numerous personal messages of support as he flagged his ambition to run for the post of UN secretary general, including telling him the Australian government would be “mad” not to support his candidacy.

Rudd has rounded on Turnbull after the prime minister’s decision on Friday not to endorse his candidacy for the position on the basis that he is not suitable for the role.

The former Labor prime minister on Friday evening released three letters he wrote to Turnbull concerning his candidacy for the UN position. In the letters, Rudd documented the occasions he says Turnbull expressed private support for his bid since he assumed the Liberal party leadership.

“As you know we have had many discussions in person, by text and by phone on the matter of my candidature for the position of UN SG over the last six months or more since you became prime minister,” Rudd told the prime minister in a letter in May 2016.

“You will also recall that we discussed this matter on many occasions prior to you becoming PM as well,” he wrote.

“You will recall that last September I contacted you asking for guidance on how I should address the matter of your previously stated support to me for my candidature when I met foreign minister Bishop at the UN General Assembly in September.

“You in fact sent me a message on your preferred Wickr system where you stated that you and the FM [foreign minister] were “as one” in your support for my candidature.”

Rudd said they met in November, then again in December.

“Once again you stated your support for my candidature. You added that when the time came to lodge my nomination, you now wanted to take it to cabinet to avoid the perception of a ‘captain’s pick’.

“You also said to me that the cabinet process would not change the outcome,” Rudd wrote.

A spokesman for the prime minister said on Friday night Rudd’s representation of the December conversation was inaccurate.

“The claim there was support in December is wrong,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “Rudd was told the decision would be made by the cabinet.”

The Rudd letter from May follows a conversation between the two men just before the May budget, when the prime minister indicated to Rudd he was not inclined to support his candidacy for the UN.

Turnbull is understood to have told Rudd in that same conversation Rudd would not have cabinet support to be nominated for the post.

Rudd confirms this in his letter. “In your telephone call you said that neither you nor the cabinet would be supporting my nomination. When I asked the reasons for this, you said that neither you nor the cabinet has the view that I had the qualifications for the position.

“You will appreciate that you have never expressed that view to me in the multiple conversations we have had on this matter on the past.”

Notwithstanding that bruising conversation in May, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, was asked to prepare a cabinet submission on Rudd’s candidacy with formal consideration of the issue to happen after the election.

Bishop this week supported nominating Rudd on the basis of his qualifications – but that position was opposed by several others in the cabinet, including treasurer Scott Morrison, immigration minister Peter Dutton and finance minister Mathias Cormann.

Turnbull ultimately sided with those colleagues opposed to Rudd’s candidacy.

• This article was amended on 1 August 2016 to correct the date of a letter sent by Rudd to Turnbull. It was originally reported to be from May 2015, but was May 2016.

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Katharine Murphy Political editor

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