Call it the Kevin and Julie show.
In Manhattan on Friday, not far from the bright lights of Broadway and the boxing mecca of Madison Square Garden, Kevin Rudd and Julie Bishop put on a part comedy, part boxing show … sprinkled with some serious geopolitical talk.
Mr Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and foreign affairs minister, hosted Ms Bishop, Australia’s current foreign affairs minister, at an Asia Society event.
For about an hour the longtime political foes sat on stage in front of an audience.
Sometimes it was awkward.
Other times a bit frigid.
There were quite a few laughs and eye rolls.
“Julie and I have been sparring partners in the Australian parliament for a number of years in one form or another,” Mr Rudd, a Manhattan resident and president of Asia Society’s Policy Institute, told the audience at the start of the event.
Mr Rudd politely opened the conversation with a simple: “How’s the job going?”
Ms Bishop threw the first punch with her deadpan reply.
“Fabulous,” Ms Bishop answered.
Mr Rudd was a little taken aback.
It was as if he had been hit in the stomach.
“You didn’t take that very far did you?” Mr Rudd cautiously asked.
“How much more do you want me to say?” Ms Bishop countered.
“As much as you like?” Rudd, getting a little combative himself, replied.
“I know where you are going with this,” Ms Bishop, a little suspicious of her old rival, said.
“No you don’t,” he hit back.
“Oh yes I do. We’ve done this routine before,” Ms Bishop, winning the first round, said.
Ms Bishop has been in New York the past week at the United Nations General Assembly where North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the Myanmar Rohingya refugee crisis, terrorism and other serious issues were debated.
Mr Rudd, perhaps adding to the awkwardness, had ambitions to be UN secretary-general but a year ago Ms Bishop’s boss, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, nixed that.
Mr Rudd and Ms Bishop did speak in detail about North Korea and Myanmar, but every now and then, mostly starting from an uppercut thrown by Ms Bishop, they jousted.
“It’ll be in my book,” Ms Bishop quipped after mentioning the first time she met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was in 1995.
Ms Bishop quickly then blurted out: “There’s no book”.
Mr Rudd jumped in.
“I’ve got one coming,” Mr Rudd said.
“Another one?” Bishop, deadpanning again, replied.
Round two to Ms Bishop.
Mr Rudd later handed Ms Bishop a new Asia Society report and politely asked if she would read it.
Ms Bishop, without a word, handed him a pen.
She wanted him to autograph it.
“OK,” Mr Rudd obliged.
“I’ll auction it at the next Liberal Party fundraiser,” Ms Bishop said.
“And get $5 for it,” Mr Rudd joked.
“Therese again?” Ms Bishop, referring to Mr Rudd’s successful businesswoman wife, said.
Mr Rudd signed the report.
“To Julie … kiss kiss kiss,” he said.
Round three Ms Bishop.
Mr Rudd did score some points when they jousted about their influence on the East Asia Summit and he brought up another former prime minister, John Howard.
“The big thing we did in office – I don’t think you ever praised me for this in office – is that we finally persuaded neighbours to bring in the US and Russia (to the EAS),” Mr Rudd said.
“I didn’t praise you for that?” Ms Bishop asked.
“No,” Mr Rudd replied.
“Did you praise us for getting into it in the first place in 2006?” Ms Bishop, looking for a knockout blow, said.
“Well, in 2006 some of us had to cajole your then prime minister John Howard to …,” Mr Rudd said before Ms Bishop cut him off.
Ms Bishop, despite being way ahead on points, requested a draw.
“Oh stop it,” she said.
“OK. This is a unity ticket.”