Whatever your views on the Tampa crisis, there’s no doubt our Foreign Minister enhanced his reputation as a nasty piece of work when SBS screened the Norwegian doco, MS Tampa: Refugees at Sea, last night.

You only needed to hear then Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Yagland’s diplomatically understated account of a phone call he received from Lex Loser at the height of the drama. Downer thought little Norway might be a soft touch, but when Yagland wouldn’t yield to Lex’s insistence that the ship stay away from Australian waters, the tone changed.

“He started raising his voice, and his comments became very unpleasant,” recalled Yagland.

The Hon. Alexander has a history of petulance when he doesn’t get what he wants. Remember the diplomat who was demobbed for failing to pick up the minister in a limo at the airport, forcing Downer to take – choke! – a taxi.

And the kerfuffle over Downer’s most recent arrogant tweaking of the nose at voters – when he confided to the New Zealand High Commissioner that he couldn’t possibly tell Australians their troops were going to war in Iraq. The response from Foreign Affairs scretary Ashton Calvert after an incredulous insider leaked that gem was predictable – get the police in to find the leaker.

“I am appalled that this leak seems to have been committed by someone in the department,” Calvert told staff at the time in a simpering memo. “This action undermines very directly my, and the department’s, standing with the Government.”

If Calvert wasn’t such a craven yes-man worried primarily about his own backside, he’d be counselling Downer that Australia’s fragile international reputation demands a diplomat in the Foreign Affairs portfolio, not a Rambo Mini Me.

Peter Fray

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