Richard Woolcott is Australia’s most respected diplomat with connections world-wide that are second to none — but Howard and Downer won’t have a bar of him at APEC, where he is known personally to most of the participants.
Perhaps it’s because of the final chapter in his just released book Undiplomatic Activities (Scribe, Melbourne).
Writes Woolcott: ”As this century unfolds, I find I am living in a changed Australia. It is not the country I represented for four decades, usually with pride and always with dedication.”
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Undiplomatic Activities is not lightly put aside. The enormity of the diplomatic errors of judgement in relation to Iraq would be a worthy subject for satire if the outcomes had not been so tragic and so current. It is, indeed, no laughing matter.
He writes: ”Now, like King Canute, Bush and his courtiers, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, John Howard, Alexander Downer and more recently Brendan Nelson wait for the rising tide of political reality to submerge them. As a former Australian Ambassador said last year: ‘they find themselves up shiite creek in a wire canoe without a paddle’.”
That’s the serious part of the book which is sprinkled with numerous other gems.
While Woolcott was ambassador in Jakarta, Bob Hawke (then president of the ACTU) visited. Woolcott had arranged for him to meet foreign minister Adam Malik, who knew Hawke anyway. Woolcott attached a third secretary from the embassy to accompany Hawke and the couple were late for the appointment but eventually Hawke arrived relaxed, if a little unsteady, on his feet.
Malik asked Hawke if he had enjoyed his meeting with Agus Sudono — Hawke’s Indonesian counterpart. Hawke slapped his thigh and laughed: ‘Adam, we’re old friends, let’s cut the bullsh-t. Your trade unions are worth four-fifths of five-eighths of f-ck all.” There was a pregnant pause and Hawke told the third secretary to translate. In perfect English Malik said: ”He doesn’t need to.”
Woolcott and his wife, along with the British ambassador to the Philippines, made an official visit to an out-of-the-way province where the governor welcomed them thus: ”Welcome to paradise. Our people greet you with open arms, open hearts and open legs.”
Recounting a visit to Beijing when Kevin Rudd was the embassy’s second secretary, the now Opposition Leader was then only partly fluent in the Chinese language and translated Ambassador Ross Garnut’s remarks as follows: ”Australia and China are enjoying simultaneous org-sms in their relationship.”
In 2007 Woolcott sought a meeting with the former Chinese ambassador in Canberra , Madam Fu Ying. Her secretary asked Woolcott whether he would like a telephone meeting or one face on face!
We may never see his like again.