Alexander Downer is getting all sorts of kudos for his remarks about Australian citizens on holiday who get into trouble being too “lazy or stupid” to look after themselves. Leaving aside the point that people are innocent until proven guilty, that Australians travels in countries where police corruption is frequent and shakedowns common, and that no-one is expecting the government to do anything other than ensure people are treated fairly, the remark raises the question: what happens when it’s the foreign minister who needs rescuing?

Cue this AM transcript from 2001:

MARK WILLACY: By his own lofty standards it’s been an ordinary week for Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer. … with revelations that while attending the Forum for East Asia Latin America Cooperation in Chile, our top man in Foreign Affairs referred to less well off nations as “busted arse countries”. While dismissing the claims as “tittle-tattle” Alexander Downer is not denying that he may have used the offending phrase in private.

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well you have probably said all sorts of things in private and I have said all sorts of things in private. And all Australians have said all sorts of things in private and I’m not going to canvass any of the things that I’ve said in private, because ipso facto — they’re comments that are made private.

REPORTER: Are you concerned now that this has got out, that the rumour is going around, that these countries will be offended?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Of course not. This is just, this is just gossip and tittle tattle. It’s not a serious issue.

MARK WILLACY: Far from tittle tattle, Labor warns that Mr Downer’s alleged use of the term “busted arse countries” could cause a deal of diplomatic affront. And always one to stick up for the little guys, the ALP spokesman on foreign affairs Laurie Brereton, is positively mortified.

LAURIE BRERETON: They now all know that in private Alexander Downer refers to them as the “busted arse countries”. I’ve been told that in private the expression “BAC” was used so often that people were commenting on it as being “boorish behaviour”. It was offensive in Santiago, it is now offensive around our region and quite frankly it is inexcusable.

MARK WILLACY: While in Santiago, Laurie Brereton could’ve caught up with his opposite number for a hit of tennis. This morning the Fairfax press is reporting that despite his packed program at the forum, Alexander Downer cut class for a round of tennis. Where the staff is saying that the game was an important way of building contacts.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Mark Willacy reporting from our highly esteemed national capital.

Great days. Great days

Peter Fray

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