Some eyebrows were raised by our ambassador to Washington Joe Hockey’s attendance at last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland. Hockey is attending both the
Nuremberg rally Republican convention (from where he enthusiastically tweeted) and the Clinton coronation this week in Philadelphia. All well and good, except … that proved awfully convenient for Hockey, since he missed the arrival of his boss, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and former colleague Marise Payne, now Defence Minister, in Washington. Both went to DC last week to attend the Counter-ISIL Coalition Foreign and Defence Ministers’ meeting.
It’s customary that when the foreign minister visits a country, the ambassador is on hand to greet them, and with the meeting based in Washington, the resources of the embassy would have been deployed to support the Australian team (the DC embassy has a substantial military and intelligence representation in addition to DFAT staff). But being in Cleveland meant Hockey missed out on his meet-and-greet duties for Bishop, which Hockey might have been pleased about given Bishop’s role in relation to the ouster of Tony Abbott and Hockey last September (imagine the icy atmosphere in the car).
According to a Crikey tipster, Hockey insisted on the embassy’s senior media officer and a team of junior officials spending the week with him in Cleveland, leaving a junior public affairs officer to look after Bishop and Payne. What’s more important: Hockey personally witnessing Trump’s nomination speech and gladhanding the decidedly lightweight GOP representatives at the convention (remember, no Mitt Romney, no Bushes, a lot of state and federal GOP figures staying away) or fighting Islamic State? We asked DFAT for comment and were told by a spokesperson:
“It has been the long-standing practice for the Australian Embassy to the United States to engage with the campaigns of leading presidential candidates and to observe major campaign events, such as the party National Conventions. Ambassador Hockey, accompanied by staff from the Embassy, attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio (18-21 July) and is attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (25-28 July) to engage each campaign on their foreign and trade policy priorities.
It is standard practice for a Head of Mission to greet a Minister’s party on arrival but there are many occasions when Heads of Mission have other competing commitments in their countries of accreditation. On this occasion, Ministers Bishop and Payne were met by a senior official of the Embassy which is standard practice in these circumstances.”