If you enjoyed Alexander Downer’s virtuoso karaoke performance
at last week’s ASEAN annual conference in Laos, you’ll be pleased to
know that singing isn’t the foriegn minister’s only trick. It seems he
also fancies himself as quite the stand-up comedian.

At least that’s the picture painted by an anonymous email – which
Crikey has checked and believes to be accurate – which describes a
rather wacky conversation between Downer and some fellow Australians in
Laos, overheard at a cocktail reception on 29 July hosted by the
Australian Ambassador to Laos, Alistair Maclean. It reads:

When the night began, it was all simple enough… Until, the Downer approached:

“Hello, I’m Alexander Downer.”

so began a series of introductions, and mandatory briefings… At this
point I was thinking, this guy’s alright – he’s friendly enough,
doesn’t seem pompous, and his politics haven’t really impeded his
capacity to have a normal human interaction…

There followed
some discussion about tigers and elephants… Then Mr Downer said:
“Yes, well we have a real wildlife issue in my electorate in South
Australia. We have a real problem with koalas on Kangaroo Island. There
are just far too many. And because of the political sensitivities
around koalas, we can’t cull them. All we can do really is turn a blind
eye when the farmers shoot them. I mean, can you imagine what would
happen if we culled koalas? There would be worldwide protests.
Australians would understand, but the rest of the world? No, it’s just
too politically sensitive.”

A pause. Mr Downer seemed to be
pondering the complexities of the issue, looking off into the
distance… he then said: “We could – somehow – send a suicide bomber
koala into Kangaroo Island… But we’d need to get all of the koalas in
the same place first.”

Laughs heartily.

“That’s not that funny though, is it?”

some uncomfortable silence, the conversation turned to journalism. The
newspapers are pretty average here, aren’t they? Not too much ‘freedom
of the press? Unlike in Australia…

Chortle, chortle from the Honorable.

in Australia it’s all a little out of control. You read some things,
and you get so frustrated. They’ve completely missed the point of what
you’re doing or saying, and portrayed it as somehow fascistic or
cruel… You can really understand how some governments get to the
point where they say, ‘enough is enough’ – no more media freedom!”

sensing the growing discomfort of his three spectators, he goes on:
“And anyway, I’ve always thought newspapers were the wrong way
around… You should start with the sports pages, then the weather, the
gossip sections, business and then, finally, politics. The same goes
for news on the television.”

A pause. Then Mr Downer adds:

“I mean, politics – who gives a f*ck?”

An interesting question from the man in charge of our country’s foreign affairs…

Christian Kerr writes: Alexander Downer is a nice bloke.
True, he’s often portrayed as a bit of a twit or a snob. But that’s
unfair. The snobbery bit comes from his accent – Adelaide private
schoolboy combined with several years in the UK with his family or as a
student. And the twit bit should put the lie to claims he’s a snob.
Downer is unafraid to take the p*ss out of himself – indeed, maybe a
little too unafraid.

We all remember “The things that batter”
line. That was silly. Opposition leaders shouldn’t make jokes about the
titles of their manifestos. Then there was the fishnets photo. Downer
shouldn’t have let the picture of himself pulling on stockings be
taken, but it needs to be put in context. It was one of a series of
“celebrity feet” – largely footballers’ – clad in stockings and high
heels featured in a newspaper competition in The Adelaide Advertiser.

nine years, Downer has grown into a foreign minister with substance. He
just needs to remember that it’s a full time job – with little scope
for comedy.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey