Some time ago, our Mole in DFAT was unequivocal: “That damned woman hasn’t filed one political report of any significance from Rome,” spluttered Mole down a secure telephone line from deep in the bowels of the crack Canberra department.

We now know why her Excellency has been dilatory in doing what what she’s basically paid for — she’s been too busy replacing the traces of class and flair created by the wife of her predecessor, Tanya Woolcott, who happens to be the daughter of the late Professor Fred Hollows.

The Australian‘s Sean Parnell had the story today. Vanstone emailed a Canberra bureaucrat in November with in distress at her Italian villa’s decor:

She said the colours of the paint ranged from “two-tone white-cream banding in the foyer, green in the stairwell, white in the main reception room and apricot in the dining room … nicely (!) set off by a chocolate library”.

“As you know, people are never short of offering a view, and one interior designer (award-winning, not would-be if could-be) and a spender on ID rattled on to me about a warmer colour in the dining room etcetera …”

Ms Vanstone went on to ask whether it would be prudent to have an “overall plan rather than intermittent splurges”. She admitted: “This is not my forte.”

But one regular visitor to the ambassadorial mansion while Tanya was chatelaine today heaped praise on her decorating skills saying she’d created a tasteful little bit of Australia in Rome.

Explained a Crikey source of Amanda’s sweeping changes: Look, every incoming ambassador at a post leaves the decorating to the spouse; the ambassador just doesn’t have the time for that kind of minutia. There’s usually a budget which is worked around and as a rule of thumb Canberra helps as much as possible with the monetary confines.

But political appointees seem to think they have to go one step further to make a point. That is, they are more important than the professionals they replace.

Amanda’s patronising descriptions have caused distress among embassy staff who witnessed first-hand Tanya Woolcott’s efforts, the first changes in the residence in 35 years. We were told Mrs Woolcott worked tirelessly in creating a residence of which Australia can be proud; she rolled up her sleeves and did a lot of the work herself, saving taxpayer dollars along the way.

Vanstone claims to dislike the “fake suede couches” and “faux antique Italian” but our source laughed at this suggestion, saying that the suede couches were anything but faux, in fact there’s nothing faux about the Woolcotts.

While Rome burns our ambassador is busy making life more comfortable for her husband and the Weimaraners.

Peter Fray

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