Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 04:23 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 04:23 | SYDNEY

Two views of Downer


Sam Roggeveen


4 July 2008 10:48

Our longest-serving Foreign Minister, who has just announced his retirement from the parliament, clearly evokes strong feelings. For the prosecution, we have Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who pens a rather devastating portrait of Downer's personality. There's more than a hint of personal animosity in this column, which detracts from the judgments about Downer's record as a minister.

For the defence, Janet Albrechtson had this fawning effort in The Australian a few days ago, which included an interview with Downer. Albrechtson's interest is clearly in boosting her subject rather than interrogating him, which is why she makes no effort to challenge this quote:

Whether in terms of international diplomacy or domestic policies, the great take-out of the Howard years was a focus on practical solutions...No posturing. No spin. Just practical solutions to real problems. The Howard government intellectualised policy and rejected symbolism. It was part of our undoing, too. We would not go in for symbolic gestures.

Speaking of Albrechtson, it was an anecdote she related at a Centre for Independent Studies event in 2006 that crystalised my reservation about Downer, which was that he had simply fallen in too heavily with the neo-conservative crowd:

A few days ago our Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told me a secret. He said, that after he’d a particularly bad day on the political hustings, he slinks home and he does three things: he sits down on a sofa with a glass of whisky, he turns on the television to watch FOX news and downloads the latest offerings from Mark Steyn, just to remind himself that there is some sanity in the world.