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Spring 2002 cover

National Observer Home > No. 54 - Spring 2002 > Editorial Comment

Mr. Alexander Downer - Mr. Howard's Court Buffoon

All Cabinets contain weaker members, such as Mr. Daryl Williams, the Attorney-General, who has been much commented upon on past occasions.1  But gradually Mr. Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been emerging as perhaps the most inadequate of those selected by Mr. John Howard.

Mr. Downer has been notable for his somewhat effeminate manner and his having reportedly worn fishnet stockings. He was also reported to have dressed "in flower-power gear for an entertainment night" at the end of regional security talks in Brunei recently: "Downer, complete with wig and sunglasses, sang a song entitled, ‘Going to Brunei" to the tune of the 1970s hit Spirit In the Sky. He poked fun at foreign ministers from Burma and India . . . In another verse he pleaded ‘Yashwant, please don't fry us’, backed by his officials decked out in head bands and other hippy gear."2

At the same time Mr. Downer has been making threats against Iraq which have caused Iraq to threaten to cancel wheat shipments from Australia to the value of many millions of dollars. This necessitated interventions by Mr. Howard and senior ministers in order to minimise the damage that Mr. Downer had done.

Shortly beforehand, through behaviour that was deceptive, Mr. Downer brought about ratification by Australia of the statute of the International Criminal Court, an act that has diminished Australia's sovereignty by subjecting Australia to the jurisdiction of that dubious tribunal, which is expected to be greatly influenced by political considerations.

Recently the distinguished commentator, Mr. John Stone, noted that despite the culpability of Mr. Daryl Williams, it was in fact Mr. Downer who applied pressure on his colleagues and purveyed dishonest information in order to ensure Australia's subjection to the International Criminal Court:3

"Mr. Williams, as is notorious among his parliamentary colleagues, is a nonentity (as well as a political naif), and his tendentious support for Australia's membership of this ‘fundamentally flawed Court’ (as even The Australian described it in a 21 June 2002 leader) has been as doggedly stupid as one would expect from such a bumbler. However, when the debating chips were finally down weeks ago, both in the Coalition's Joint Party Room and in the Cabinet, it became clear that the real eminence (sic) noir in the matter was our Foreign Minister in Fishnet Stockings, Mr. Downer.

It was Mr. Downer's office, not Mr. Williams’, that made the phone calls, bullied (or cozened) the back-benchers, and fed the lies to the usual Parliamentary Press Gallery collaborators. His office also, in the end, devised the deceitful douceur, the so-called ‘Declaration’ to accompany our ratification. This, Mr. Downer argued, categorically laid to rest all those ‘exaggerated’ - even ‘hysterical" - fears that Australian servicemen or women (or other Australians) might find themselves dragged before this highly political court, to be tried under judicial standards greatly inferior to our own.

Meanwhile the hapless Mr. Williams was nowhere to be seen, emerging only to hover uneasily at Mr. Downer's embarrassed side in that press conference when the Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard, told us that, in the end, he hadn't had the ticker to reverse those years of betrayal (of him also, incidentally, as well as of us) by his two colleagues. So as I say, I was wrong: the real bogeyman in all this long saga has been, not Mr. Williams, but Mr. Downer . . .What possible excuse can Mr. Downer have for lying, not merely to the Parliament, including his own party colleagues, but also to the rest of us?

Let there be no mistake about the facts. Throughout the whole I.C.C. debate, Mr. Downer and his department repeatedly told us that there was ‘no question’ of Australians (including members of our Defence Force) being tried by this foreign political court. Any Australians charged with I.C.C.-type ‘crimes’, they asserted, would be dealt with in Australia, by Australians. Yet in a final endeavour to gull us even further, Mr. Downer devised, and Mr. Howard gratefully accepted, a ‘Declaration’ which purported to say, among other equally worthless things, that no Australian would be handed over to this foreign court.

Of course, the very issuing of such a ‘Declaration’ gave the lie to all those deceitful assurances that had gone before. But also, and compounding the offence, it was certainly known to Mr. Downer and his advisers that the I.C.C. Statute itself specifically says (Article 120) that:

‘No reservations may be made to this Statute.’

In short, our ‘Declaration’ has no force whatsoever in terms of the treaty to which Australia's name has now been so cravenly affixed."

Here the issue of honesty is of particular importance. Mr. Downer was certainly aware of Article 120, which rendered null any purported "reservations" by a ratifying state. He was certainly aware that Article 120 overrode the "Declaration" which his office devised and which he promoted. He therefore misled Mr. Howard and his colleagues.4  As Mr. John Stone commented,5

"Today we have come to understand that an Australian diplomat is a person who stays at home to lie to his (or her) fellow citizens on behalf of that mythical entity, ‘the international community’. Most recently, we have seen that development carried to new heights in our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade himself, the Hon. Alexander Downer."

Mr. Howard should replace Mr. Downer with someone who (a) is concerned with Australia's interests, rather than pandering to "internationalist" groups opposed to Australian interests, (b) does not mislead Mr. Howard and the Australian community on matters of importance and (c) is not risible.6


1. See, for example, "Mr. Daryl Williams, Australia's Inadequate Attorney-General", National Observer, No. 53, pages 63-64.

2. The Age, 3 August 2002.

3. The Adelaide Review, August 2002.

4. Opposition to ratification of the I.C.C. Statute had been strong among Coalition members, and ratification would have been rejected in the absence of Mr. Downer's deceptive conduct. Some of those who, to their credit led this opposition were Senator Nick Minchin, Mrs. Bronwyn Bishop M.P. and Ms. Sophie Panopoulos M.P.

5. The Adelaide Review, August 2002

6. United States policy in the Middle East is heavily influenced by Israel and by Jewish pressure groups in New York especially. In particular, Israel has a vested interest in persuading the United States to attack Iraq. Unfortunately, Mr. Downer has shown himself to be an indiscriminate and extreme supporter of a direct U.S. military initiative against Iraq without considering fully the adverse consequences to Australia (and indeed to the United States also) of this course.

National Observer No. 54 - Spring 2002