The entire Vanstone episode has devolved into what can only be described as sleaze elevated to dizzy heights. It now seems that the Man of Steel’s anger with Italy and his preparedness to abandon protocol in the Vanstone appointment, stems from the country’s decision to withdraw its troops from the Iraq adventure.

Howard, it appears, regards Italy as beyond the pale and frankly, my dear, doesn’t give a damn about the country or it’s leaders. Why else would the normal diplomatic niceties be trashed in such a way? Why else would he announce the appointment of a new ambassador to Rome before signalling that appointment through formal diplomatic channels to the Italian Government?

Why indeed? Amanda herself, of course, must accept part of the blame. Blathering away to journalists yesterday she revealed she’ll be in situ in Rome by late June. This was news to Peter Woolcott, our ambassador in Rome, who only got wind of the timing after hearing it from media representatives who called him for a reaction.

Crikey first reported Vanstone’s Italian job on 29 January.

As Crikey revealed exclusively some time ago, Woolcott had been assured by Lord Downer that he would be staying en poste well into next year and that the Woolcott kids could in fact change schools, without further disruption. “You’ll be there till June 2008 and the end of the Italian school year” Downer assured him.

While this was being relayed, the Man of Steel and Amanda had started negotiations – and no one told Downer. We further revealed Woolcott’s rage when he read in Crikey what was in store for him and we can only guess his reaction to yesterday’s icing of the long-baked cake.

Like our readers and many good folk in DFAT, we wonder just who had what on whom to make the Howard/Amanda axis so lethal. The ramifications of all this are many and include a feeling a despair among senior DFAT diplomats and confusion in the mind of Woolcott, who has yet to learn formally of his fate, which Crikey hopes won’t be worse than death. Watch this space – we understand the drama isn’t quite played out.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey