The federal government runs a worthy initiative called Family Business Australia  – and it seems even members of the government’s own top echelons are getting into the spirit of its aim to “improve the effectiveness of Australian families in business”. Leading the way is Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, whose daughter has just joined the Downer family business, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This continues the lineage which started when Alexander Snr became High Commissioner to Britain.

As Crikey reports today, Georgina Downer has been employed by Dad’s department as a graduate trainee. This career move follows another Downer family initiative almost two years ago when Ms Downer was awarded a Chevening Scholarship by the British government. At the time, Crikey was severely rebuked by the Minister for publishing that story and implying he had attempted to exert influence to secure his daughter’s scholarship (we then had hard evidence of the Minister’s role, even though we were – and still are – unable to publish it to protect our sources).

Alexander Downer will undoubtedly be positioned to say, again, that he did not personally influence his daughter’s appointment. And Crikey will again probably be accused by the Minister of invading his daughter’s privacy, something we regret having to do.

But when one of the government’s most senior ministers – a man who spends much of his time lecturing others on how to behave – allows one of his family to be employed by his own department, there’s a stench of many flavours in the air: nepotism, hubris, improper behaviour and the whiff of a long-serving government which seems to believe itself bulletproof from normal conventions.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey