Politics

Billy Bunter’s plum posting

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Why has Tony Abbott sacked Mike Rann to deliver his old mate Alexander Downer the plum London diplomatic posting? Senior correspondent Barry Everingham lifts the lid.

The hubris surrounding the Abbott Government's first 100 days of office could be premature — some moderate Abbott backbenchers are spitting chips at the news that Alexander Downer has landed the plum post as Australia's High Commissioner in London.

But wait, isn't Mike Rann, the former South Australian premier already running Australia House?

Yes, for the time being. Before we return to Downer let’s see how Abbott will handle Rann, who it seems learned a lesson from his former South Australian mate, Amanda Vanstone.

It will be remembered Howard got rid of her by offering her the job of Ambassador to Rome and, at the time, he didn't mention it to his foreign minister Downer, who was furious he was left out of the loop as he had promised the then Ambassador, Peter Woolcott, security of tenure so he could go ahead and enrol his children in a new school.

Amanda got Howard to enclose a clause in her employment contract that if she happened to be removed early she would get a massive payout.

Rann obviously had a yarn to Amanda and his current contract is watertight. IA can now reveal that Rann won’t go quietly — he has delivered the Government two alternatives: a massive redundancy cheque or a transfer to the Embassy in Rome. He is attracted to the latter as his wife happens to be Italian.

Back to Downer, who Keating referred to as “the Billy Bunter of Australian politics”.

Downer is a faux Englishman in the mould of the egregious David Flint. He was raised in the UK when his late father, the gallant and highly regarded Sir Alexander ‘Alec’ Downer was High Commissioner. Unlike his son, Sir Alec was universally liked.

Now young Alexander has an enormous opinion of himself, which isn't shared by many people he comes into contact with. He is currently a laughing stock at the UN where he is on a mission to sort out the impossible ongoing troubles between the Cypriots and the Turks and is getting co-operation from neither side.

Alexander Downer — beloved by Indonesia. (Image via smh.com.au)

He may have been our longest serving foreign minister, but was far from the most effective. Which is why, when he was begging Abbott for a diplomatic post and said he would like Washington, he was laughed out of the office.

After Abbott had checked with Foreign Affairs, he was reminded that both Howard and Downer had said a vote for Obama would be a vote for terrorism and so both men are now persona non grata in the USA.

Now why Abbott would even consider Downer for a post is puzzling and why for one of the crowns in the diplomatic crown is even more puzzling.

The poms have little regard for us at the best of times and our reputation would suffer when this giggling pompous arrogant has-been lands at Heathrow.

Leaving aside what the Poms will think, Abbott will need to come up with a good excuse to pacify a good slice of his backbench who are already very unhappy after the first 100 days.

It’s a case of watch this space.

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