Kevin Rudd’s establishment of a full-time ambassador to the world’s tiniest country comes with a million dollar-plus price tag.
According to DFAT’s media area, the department is to be given additional funding for Tim Fischer’s appointment. Despite Linday Tanner’s ongoing search-and-destroy mission for wasteful expenditure, it could not have been otherwise — DFAT has already copped a $57m cut this year and is currently in the throes of one of those “root and branch” reviews so beloved of the Government.
A rough calculation suggests the posting would cost $1.2m at a minimum. There is already a full-time councillor at the Vatican, supported by a local (i.e. non-Australian) staff member. In addition to Fischer’s salary — over $200,000 including super — there will need to be a couple of DFAT staff, a media liaison staff member, and a couple of local employees.
The Fischers will also need some personal staff — they have two sons aged 14 and 12 — and an entertainment budget. Between that and travel, there won’t be much change from $1.2m per annum. It’ll cost a bit to re-fit the existing office space, too, assuming they can all squeeze into existing office used by the councillor.
Greg Sheridan lauds the appointment today as “brilliant”, which is a little extravagant even for him, but it’s presumably on the basis that he urged it some months ago and everyone loves to be proved right. His main reason for believing that an ambassador to a religious fundamentalist micro-state is that everyone else does it, including the Yanks. As DFAT points out, there are currently 69 other full-time ambassadors at the Vatican. Maybe Rudd just wanted to get the Holy See’s number to 70.
A greater mystery is the continuing popularity of ex-National Party leaders. Doug Anthony is well-liked and briefly ascended to the realms of cultdom in the 1980s with DAAS (now there’s some guys who demonstrate the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts). Fischer is even more popular. These are men whose occasionally extreme views have been forgotten or ignored because they’re basically decent and friendly blokes.
Fischer’s frequent attacks on Israel (for which Anthony defended him in 1993) apart, his lowest moments came on Indigenous issues, promising National Party supporters tempted by One Nation “bucketloads of extinguishment” of native title in response to Wik and calling Aboriginal land councils “blood-sucking”, for which he later expressed regret. Maybe this taps into some Australian attachment to rural eccentricity that Anthony also drew on when he ran the country from a caravan at the coast when Malcolm Fraser was on summer holidays.
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It’s not likely to continue, though — it’s impossible to see younger, more mainstream Nats like John Anderson and Mark Vaile ever inspiring that sort of affection.