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18 February 2014

Dolly Downer goes to London

The decision of the Abbott Government to appoint former foreign minister Alexander 'Dolly' Downer to the plum diplomatic post of High Commissioner in London is as absurd as it outrageous (though not unexpected, where we signalled the Abbott Government's intentions back in December).

Indeed it is parallel to Gough Whitlam's appointment of Senator Vince Gair to Dublin, at least Gough wanted Vince out of the Senate in the dying days of his Government, but Abbott's reasoning is bizarre.

From Mark Kenny in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald:

The move is understood to be Mr Downer's second preference after he lobbied hard for the Washington post.

Fairfax Media has learnt the federal government has decided on the controversial switch, but aware of the sensitivities, is not planning to announce the change until after the state election in South Australia on March 22.

Downer was flop as Opposition Leader, which only came about when the Liberal Party was in a fit of despair and he was offered the poisoned chalice at a time when no other Liberal MP would even remotely consider it.

His end came in 1995 when he insulted all women who had suffered abuse at the hands of husbands or partners by sneeringly referring to "things that batter".

After that, he served on the backbench until John Howard was swept into power the following year and Downer was appointed Foreign Minister. And mere moments after being appointed to the role, he exhibited more than his diplomatic credentials by agreeing to be photographed in fishnet stockings and stilettos (pictured above) by outstanding photojournalist Grant Nowell for the Herald Sun.

Nevertheless, Howard kept him in this role throughout his seemingly endless prime ministership, thus becoming not only Australia's least effective foreign minister, but also its longest serving.

Following the likes of Gareth Evans in that important role was no easy task - the Evans soaring intellect was no match for Downer, a Billy Bunter-esque faux Australian, who was held in contempt by his former colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs, where he had held a few inglorious posts before pursuing a political career.

Our own sources in that crack political department report that the current feelings following the announcement are nothing short of funereal.

Downer was educated and spent a part of his childhood in the United Kingdom, when his gallant and widely adored war hero father Sir Alexander 'Alec' Downer held the post his less than revered son will try to fill.

Young Downer's phony English accent and his contempt for Australians who are not from his 'silver spoon' background will surely confuse the Poms who are, in the main, contemptuous of most Australians anyway.

And Whitehall diplomats who served at the United Nations will be amazed at the appointment.

It is said Downer begged for a UN posting and when the Howard government brought pressure to bear in New York, he was handed his second poisoned chalice, another job no sane person would take on.

The UN bureaucracy gave him the impossible task of trying to solve the differences between the Turks and the Cypriots, which has made him an even bigger laughingstock than he was at the international forum.

It was said at the time the task was even more impossible than the battle between the Israelis and the Arabs.

He is regarded as a joke at the UN and by both sides in the conflict he was has so notably failed to not only solve, but even get close to first base.

Downer's ego is so out of control he wanted Abbott to pull Kim Beazley out of Washington, where his is doing a sterling job and put him in as his replacement.

What Abbott owes Downer we don't know, but what Whitehall will think of the current decision remains to be seen.

Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister is a hard nut to crack and those gimlet eyes of hers could halt an advancing army.

She stupidly reversed the Gillard decision to give former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks the Consulate General in New York and has appointed another South Australian rightwinger in Nick Minchin in his place.

She will now take glee in pulling Mike Rann out of London where has hardly had time to settle into the job.

What a joke.

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