For the third time in 50 years, Australia is sending a g-y diplomat to the Court of St James to be Australian High Commissioner in London.

In 1964 Prime Minister Robert Menzies sent his Immigration Minister Sir Alexander Downer to the London post. Downer insisted on taking with him a lowly class 6 officer from the department, Geoffrey Champion, who was given a dramatic public service promotion to accompany Sir Alexander as his private secretary.

In 1994 Prime Minister Paul Keating dispatched the former Health Minister Neal Blewett to London as high commissioner. Blewett, a former Rhodes Scholar, took his then partner with him.

Now Prime Minister Ken Rudd has chosen career diplomat John Dauth, who has been high commissioner in Wellington, NZ, since 2006, for the blue chip London posting.

London is one of Dauth’s old stamping grounds. He worked at Buckingham Palace between 1977 and 1981 during the courtship and marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer.

In her book “The Royals”, author Kitty Kelly tells the story of How Charles biographer Anthony Holden sent a copy of his book to the palace for corrections. Kelley wrote:

“John Dauth, press secretary to the prince, rang me up in near hysteria,” Holden said.

“The sentence about breast-feeding must be deleted. Absolutely and at once.”

“But why?” I asked.

“One never mentions the royal breasts.”

“Perhaps I could paraphrase and say, ‘The princess fed the baby herself?’

“That still implies the royal breasts, and the royal breasts must never be exposed.”

“In the end,” said Holden, chuckling over the prudish restraints of royal protocol, “I deleted the sentence.”

Downer and Hewett served Australia with distinction, and there is every reason to believe that Dauth will succeed as well. Certainly, The Australian’s far right foreign editor Greg Sheridan thinks so.

“In appointing John Dauth as our next high commissioner to London, the Rudd government has made a brilliant appointment on merit.

“Dauth is one of the finest and most senior professional diplomats ever to have worked for Australia,” wrote Sheridan.

What, even more outstanding than Tim Fischer, the former National leader who has just been posted at huge public expense to The Vatican?

This is how Sheridan described the appointment of Fischer, the Forrest Gump of Australian politics, to the Catholic principality in Rome:

“The appointment of Tim Fischer as Australia’s first resident ambassador to the Vatican is a brilliant and far-sighted act that indicates as much as anything the Rudd Government has done, a determination that Australia will play a meaningful role globally.” (The Oz, July 22, 2008)

When he stepped down as deputy prime minister, John Howard rewarded Fischer with the lucrative chairmanship of Tourism Australia. This week the national auditor heavily criticised the organization, chaired by Fischer between 3004 and June 2007, for spending $184 million on the horribly misguided “Where the Bloody Hell are you?” campaign without having proper means of checking whether it was effective. (Tourism body failed to assess campaign, SMH August 7, 2008)

Let’s hope Fischer’s stunning performance at Tourism Australia isn’t repeated in Rome.

More seriously, we have two “brilliant” diplomatic appointments by Rudd, the former diplomat, in two weeks, according to Sheridan, who is a kind of megaphone for Washington in the Australia media. Something’s seriously out of sync here and, worryingly, it looks like the PM’s judgment.

Peter Fray

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