Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Making a fool of the Foreign Minister

Stephen Smith was doing his best yesterday morning on Sky Television to bat away the curly deliveries of interviewer Keiran Gilbert about the Prime Minister vetoing the appointment of Hugh Borrowman as the Australian Ambassador to Germany. " I don't comment on appointments that we made," said the Foreign Minister, "other than to announce who the appointed diplomat is. And that follows longstanding government practice in Australia and elsewhere. Secondly, I don't respond to rumour or speculation."
The exchange continued:
I have announced an appointment of one of our senior officers to Sweden - Hugh Borrowman. He's a very good officer. He'll be a very good ambassador to Sweden. Sweden's an important post for us. From 1 July Sweden chairs the European Union. And we have tried to make much more of our modern engagement with Europe and the European Union through our Australia European Union partnership framework.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it really important though? I mean, you hear Sweden; it doesn't sound like its frontline for an Australian diplomat. And this guy's meant to be one of our senior diplomats.
STEPHEN SMITH: He's a very good officer. He'll be a very good ambassador to Sweden. Sweden is important. As I say, we're trying to modernise our relationship with Europe. Sweden chairs the European Union as President from 1 July. It's an important country and it's an important posting. I make recommendations to the Governor General and Executive Council about our appointments. Obviously, from time to time I consult with the Prime Minister. That's exactly the same practice that every government has had. But I certainly don't get into the detail publicly about gossip or speculation about people's credentials or whether they've been considered or not considered for other posts.
KIERAN GILBERT: It's being suggested that this is another example of - the Prime Minister's reported today - as an example of the Prime Minister's obsessive control of foreign policy. Do you find that?
STEPHEN SMITH: No I don't. The Prime Minister and I work very closely and very well together. I also see the suggestion that somehow there's a gap or a lag in our appointments. That's certainly not the case. The Prime Minister and I make judgements about foreign policy in our national interest. I make judgements and the Prime Minister makes judgements about whom we appoint to serious, important diplomatic posts, again, in our national interest. We're very pleased with the level and the range and the quality of ambassadors that we have.
KIERAN GILBERT: So if it's in the national interest, suggestions that it's to do with any animosity between Mr Rudd and Mr Borrowman are false? They apparently went to university together.
STEPHEN SMITH: The number of people I went to university with as well, you know… It's just, frankly, gossip and rumour. I notice there's not one sourced comment from anyone in that piece. And I'm not going to give it anything more than that.

That last comment about there being "not one sourced comment from anyone in that piece" was clearly designed to give the impression that the story of the Prime Ministerial intervention was nothing more than an invention.
It was not long, however, before Kevin Rudd stepped up to the microphone to confirm that he had put the cross through Mr Borrowman's appointment. Not for the Australian Prime Minister that longstanding practice in Australia and elsewhere of not commenting on appointments as he happily made Stephen Smith look as truthful as his press secretaries.
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