So what has Tim Fischer been up to at the Vatican?
When former Members of Parliament are handed plum overseas diplomatic appointments they are usually for services rendered as paybacks for loyalty to the ruling political party.
Kevin Rudd has turned that one on its head – he’s been glad handing Liberals like there’s no tomorrow kicking off with the incredible appointment of Tim Fischer as our ambassador to the Vatican.
Traditionally, that post is “cross accredited” – the ambassador to Ireland is also our man in the Vatican – the Church will not accept ambassadors appointed to Italy and resident in Rome to the Vatican post.
So the man in Dublin went to Rome a couple of times year, said Hi to Vatican officials and returned to the Emerald Isle.
Rudd reckoned Tim would be the man because he could lobby other ambassadors to the Vatican for Australia’s quest for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Incredible as it may sound, the Vatican hosts an enormous diplomatic corps and until Tim was appointed , a junior diplomat was resident there to look after our interests.
Now the big question is: why Tim?
OK he’s a great bloke – funny, witty a great promoter of Akubra hats and a man whose main passion in life is traveling on trains. He wasn’t the most memorable of politicians – he was leader of the Nationals for a while and did what those agrarian socialists do best; that’s grab deals for their cocky constituents.
So Rudd at least knew Tim was good at arm twisting – but how can this appointment which is setting Treasury back squillions – be remotely justified?
In Senate estimates last week, a few Liberal senators got stuck into Tim via Foreign Office officials facing the inquiry.
Tim’s former coalition colleagues wanted to know why Rudd sent His Excellency to represent us at Libya’s national day celebrations held in Tripoli. What did that swan cost and what did it achieve?
All that was revealed was laughable – it seems he didn’t do a great deal and he wasn’t lobbying any Arab ambassadors for our seat on the Council.
But Tim being Tim did one good thing – he went to the incredibly beautiful and peaceful War Cemetery at Tobruk where many of our bravest and best are resting.
So the trip wasn’t wasted in that respect but his appointment to the Vatican is a disgrace. And an expensive one at that.
By the way, none of the Government’s senators on the estimates committee asked one question about Tim. Funny that, eh?
(Barry Everingham is a former diplomatic correspondent for The Australian newspaper).
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