The daughter of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is now working for him. Last Thursday, this notice appeared in the Public Service Gazette:

Georgina Downer is one of the 20-30 graduate trainees recruited by DFAT each year.

Her appointment follows another episode involving the Minister and his daughter. In August 2005, Crikey reported that Ms Downer had taken up one of the British government’s Chevening Scholarships to study at the London School of Economics.

According to the Chevening website, scholarships are for Australian citizens who “have a strong undergraduate degree (emphasis is placed on applications with First or Second Class Honours)”. Georgina Downer received a third class honours degree from the University of Melbourne.  

At the time, we asked:

Does an Australian foreign minister have a conflict of interest if a close member of his family is awarded a prestigious scholarship by a country which uses such scholarships to “contribute to the maintenance of a strong relationship between the countries”?

Should close family members of senior politicians exclude themselves from certain opportunities because of the public perception that could be created if they don’t? …

And how should 330-odd unsuccessful candidates for the same scholarship feel when they find out that one of the handful of successful candidates is the daughter of the Australian foreign minister? …

(For a history of Crikey’s examination of the issues, click here and here).

The latest announcement raises a fresh batch of questions. Does an Australian foreign minister have a conflict of interest if a close member of his family is awarded a graduate trainee position in the department he runs? Can a recruitment process involving the boss’s daughter ever be fair? And even if it manages procedural fairness, can it ever be perceived as fair and just?

This morning, Crikey left a message on Ms Downer’s voicemail at DFAT. She hadn’t returned our call when we went to press.  

Peter Fray

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