KEVIN RUDD insists only he and a staffer were in the study at Kirribilli House when George Bush rang, but the Prime Minister has refused to say whether others outside the room could have overheard the phone call to the US President, a detailed account of which appeared in a newspaper.
A report in The Australian alleged that during the conversation on October 10, Mr Bush had asked Mr Rudd what the G20 was.
As the Opposition continued to demand that Mr Rudd explain how the account of the conversation was published, a source told the Herald the United States ambassador had complained directly to the Prime Minister.
The source said the ambassador, Robert McCallum, phoned Mr Rudd in response to the October 25 article, which claimed Mr Bush had not known what the G20 was. Mr Rudd’s office declined to confirm or deny the claim yesterday, saying only there were always "ongoing discussions" between the Government and foreign diplomats.
In a prearranged call to discuss an international response to the global financial crisis, Mr Bush phoned Mr Rudd while the Prime Minister was hosting a dinner at Kirribilli. Mr Rudd excused himself and took the call in an adjacent study. The leaders agreed the G20 was the best vehicle through which to discuss a co-ordinated global response.
The Bush Administration was upset, however, when it was reported that Mr Bush had asked a "stunned" Mr Rudd: "What’s the G20?" The White House denied the President’s alleged ignorance in The Washington Post and a US official reaffirmed this denial to the Herald yesterday.
"All we had to say about it was that we agree with Kevin Rudd’s office that the report mischaracterised the conversation and it was inaccurate," the official said.
The editor of The Australian , Chris Mitchell, was one of the dinner guests that night. Mr Rudd’s office declined to answer whether the guests could have overheard the conversation.
"The Prime Minister took that call from President Bush in his study. The only person in the study with the Prime Minister was a note taker from the Prime Minister’s office," a spokesman said.
A person familiar with the layout of Kirribilli House said the study is only about three to four metres from where the guests would have been and had the door been open, they would have easily heard the call, which lasted about 30 minutes, on speaker-phone. Mr Rudd’s office declined to answer questions about this.
The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, plans to pursue the matter in Parliament next week. He said "we all know" the newspaper story "came from him or from somebody speaking with his authority".
Mr Turnbull said that the winner of the US presidential election would be wary of Mr Rudd.
"The version of events that was put out there was designed to make Mr Rudd look like a diplomatic encyclopedia and make Mr Bush look stupid," he said.