Somehow, the Australian Embassy in Rome continues to grab Crikey‘s headlines — for the wrong reasons. In retrospect, the former Senator Amanda Vanstone and her attack dog Gus were not the ideal choices to represent the people and government of Australia.

If John Howard had won the last election, which he didn’t, he would have discovered the folly of his ways in sending the couple there in the first place and brought them back to the obscurity both so richly deserve. But history is history and Howard is on it’s scrap heap while Vanstone and Gus sail along on choppy waters, and from what we hear the latest imbroglio may mean the couple’s ship has sprung a leak.

So what is going on? Well a lot on one hand and not much on the other, as it turns out. Paula Watt, a career and very experienced and highly respected diplomat, was until recently Vanstone’s deputy at the embassy. Ms Watt, like most professional diplomats in the crack Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, does not take kindly to political appointments. As deputy, she had to hold Vanstone’s hand and make sure all was well.

The task, it seems, proved to be impossible and Crikey understands a series of emails left the deputy’s desk to her superiors in Canberra asking, then begging and finally demanding she be allowed to return to Canberra. In the main they went unanswered until the hapless deputy could stand it no longer. So she did something that no other senior diplomat has ever done before — she emailed that (a) she was taking immediate leave until June 26 when (b) she would then return to the department for re-assigning but (c) not to Rome. “I will not go back there” and that was that.

That is heavy stuff — but it doesn’t end there. The G8 meeting of representatives of Japan, Russia, the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Canada is due to commence in Rome in a few weeks time and our own dear leader will be there — with his usual team of advisers. And here’s the rub — as we write a team of six senior DFAT diplomats is already packing to travel to Rome to correct the level of incompetence at the embassy.

One of Ms. Watt’s many complaints was that “hardly any work had been done at ambassadorial level to prepare for the G8” a meeting close to Kevin Rudd’s heart so all stops have been pulled out to ensure all goes well.

What all this means to Vanstone — and Gus — remains to be seen, but we hazard a guess that Roman police on guard duty at the embassy may not for much longer have to suffer the inconvenience of keeping one eye on intruders while the other checks the movements of Gus.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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