Crikey can now confirm that sacked cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone is definitely bound for Rome under a diplomatic passport, and that the current ambassador, Peter Woolcott, has been told to return to Canberra in early July.
A senior source in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Italian Government must be confused that a failed politician will be replacing a successful career diplomat in this plum post, and a source close to Melbourne’s Italian consulate remarked that the appointment has shades of Vincent Gair’s appointment to Dublin 33 years ago.
Before the official announcement can be made, Rome needs to agree to the appointment, which the Canberra source says will be automatic. Vanstone is expected to resign from the Senate as early as this week, and she will certainly quit before Parliament resumes for the Budget session early next month.
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Her resignation will be the third after the departure of the disgraced Santo Santoro and the sudden death of Jeannie Ferris. Crikey’s source said Alexander Downer, who privately admits he is against the appointment, did not stand up to the Prime Minister, who offered the post to Vanstone to get her out of the Senate.
Downer’s predecessor, Gareth Evans, flatly refused several of Bob Hawke’s plans to fill diplomatic posts. Kevin Rudd will need to tip-toe around this one as it has been rumoured that if he does become prime minister he will offer the Washington post to Kim Beazley. This is, of course, the post Beazley, when opposition leader, offered Bob Carr. Senior diplomats are referring to the Howard/Vanstone pact as “a damaging sordid backroom deal”.
CRIKEY: When we called Senator Vanstone this morning she laughed at suggestions that (a) she would quit the Senate before Parliament resumes and (b) Rome is confirmed. “Some people out there seem to know more than I do,” she said, musing further “and that’s probably true in fact”.