There used to be rules about diplomatic postings, rules ancient, arcane and complicated.
Fluency in the language of the host country, experience in handling the kind of diplomatic rows that may break out between countries, contacts within significant sections, all these factors might have once been used to weigh up suitability for posting.
But, as the Cold War years ended and language skills became less relevant (“Now they all speak English with American accents,” the author was once told), diplomatic postings became less a matter of vital importance for a government department, state or foreign relations and so on, and more the gift of the prime minister or president; a thank you for a substantial donation to a campaign fund, a token of appreciation or an appointment for someone whose contribution needs to be acknowledged, but not necessarily at home.
News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst broke the story this weekend just gone that former New South Wales Nationals senator Fiona Nash was offered, and knocked back, the position of High Commissioner to New Zealand; the offer made, according to Smethurst, days within the High Court’s ruling that Nash was ineligible to retain her Senate seat.
But, to the evident disappointment of the Turnbull government, Nash turned down the offer, choosing instead to opt for one of several rural roles. Nash, unlike former-Attorney-General George Brandis who has packed his bags for London, isn’t interested in a diplomatic posting, even one just across the ditch.
The former High Commissioner to New Zealand, Peter Woolcott, left the post for the job of chief of staff to Malcolm Turnbull. Woolcott is second-generation DFAT aristocracy: his father Richard Woolcott was a seasoned diplomat, author and commentator who served Australia in several important posts including the UN.
In declining the offered post, Fiona Nash has emphasised her commitment to serve her Party and rural constituency; she’s not closing off the door to reinstatement with the Nationals.
When George Brandis gets to London, he’ll find himself moving in a different crowd to Canberra; former British Prime Minister David Cameron is the son of the baronet and Cameron’s wife Samantha is the daughter of one.
The Notting Hill social set, binned after Brexit and Cameron’s fall, have been replaced by Theresa May, the vicar’s daughter and Boris Johnson, former journalist and editor of The Spectator. One of the first people George might invite in for drinks is Sir Lynton Crosby, the sharpest, most ruthless political Machiavelli on two continents, who has advised, not only John Howard but also the UK Conservatives and Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers.
Fiona Nash was right to turn down the New Zealand offer and should be commended for her courage in doing so. She was greatly valued by Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and when she returns to politics — as she undoubtedly will — her party will be better for it.
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