Mike Callaghan is Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre.
Prime Minister Rudd has confirmed that he will attend the G20 St Petersburg Summit on 5-6 September.
This is welcome. Continuing doubt over whether an election on 14 September would preclude the prime minister attending the St Petersburg summit a week earlier was not helping Australia's reputation as it prepares to chair the G20 in 2014.
Our commitment to the forum would have been even more damaged if the Australian leader was not at the 2013 summit. Prime Minister Rudd remarked last week that 'the G20 is important in its own right but we are hosting it next year and they expect someone to be there.' He is correct.
Mr Rudd also stated: 'I don't think it is right, if we can possibly avoid it, for Australia to be represented at the St Petersburg G20 summit by a prime minister six or seven days out from an election'. This might be seen as just presenting a reason why the election should be later in the year, with 21 September being cited as a possibility. Certainly pushing the date of the election back a week has the advantage that the Prime Minister could attend the summit and not miss the vital last week of the campaign.
But Mr Rudd raises a substantive point beyond just putting some space between the date of the summit and the election. It would clearly be preferable if the Australian prime minister attending the St Petersburg summit is the same prime minister who chairs the G20 in 2014. Leaders meeting in St Petersburg will be expecting the prime minister to give some broad indication in of Australia's priorities in its host year along with its approach to chairing the meetings in 2014. With an election one or two weeks later, any comment by the prime minister in St Petersburg will be discounted.
More importantly, a successful summit depends on the personal relationship the chair has with other leaders. If some intractable international issues are to be advanced, it will be tough going and the direct involvement of leaders will be needed. As part of the preparation for chairing the G20 in 2014, the Australian prime minister should be making the most of attendance at the St Petersburg summit to build relations with other leaders. These relationships will be called on over the course of 2014.
So as far as Australia's G20 commitments are concerned, an election prior to the St Petersburg summit would be preferable.
But if the election is held later in September, the option I raised previously involving both the prime minister and leader of the opposition attending the summit on 5-6 September continues to have merit. The importance Australia places on successfully chairing the G20 in 2014 should be bipartisan. This would be demonstrated by the attendance of both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. It would give some comfort to other countries that comments on Australia's approach to chairing the G20 in 2014 will be carried out, regardless of who is prime minister.
And who knows, with observers throughout the world often scratching their heads over political developments in Australia, perhaps the joint attendance of Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott in St Petersburg would demonstrate that there can also be a reassuring degree of political sophistication.