There is no reason why, in principle, a former politician should not serve as a diplomat, or in any other roles in our Westminster constitutional system which are expected to be outside of the political arena. In recent years we have seen how the politicians have compromised the higher echelons of the public service, but not usually by appointing former politicians.
Retired Major General Jim Molan, author of Running the War in Iraq, has delivered a scathing criticism of Kim Beazley, the Australian Ambassador to the United States. His piece, “Backward-looking Beazley shows why pollies make bad diplomats” appeared in The Australian (16/4)
He says the recent interview ( 14 April 2010, video linked) between the ABC's Kerry O'Brien and our ambassador to the US, Kim Beazley, “illustrates the downside of a highly political ambassador in Washington. Beazley has credentials to do the job, he has great interest in security issues despite some strange ideas, but he cannot stop being a politician.”
‘“Most non-partisan ambassadors,” he says, “would not have given an interview or would have been highly constrained in what they said on political issues.”
“Beazley was partisan to the point of espousing the government's propaganda.”
…isn't that an ambassador's role?…
But surely in the conduct of diplomatic relations this is precisely what is to be expected. This would be so not only in speaking to foreign governments but also in briefing the media.
Is there a difference in giving a leisurely magazine style interview? But even then, could an ambassador seriously give an opinion different from the government? When the then diplomat Richard Butler did so on one occasion, he was quickly reprimanded by Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.
I am not persuaded that Mr. Beazley could have done other than express the view of the government.
As Sir Henry Wotton once observed, “ An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”
The theme of Major General Molan’s piece was that by being partisan, Mr. Beazley illustrated “how divorced he and the government are from the running of the war in Afghanistan.”
That is an opinion on which ACM of course takes no position.