established diplomatic relations with Ireland
, and later opened an embassy
in 1964. Both countries share strong cultural and ancestral ties, but on realpolitik
issues like strategy and commerce Ireland does not feature highly on Australia's foreign policy objectives.
Many governments elect not to send highly expensive ambassadors to every country they have embassies in. In Australia's case, the Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland has concurrent accreditation to the Holy See. Australia has a separate embassy in Rome to deal with pontifical affairs, but no resident ambassador. Like Ireland, the Vatican is a country whose relations with Australia are not driven by hard core imperatives, and so the policy workload is relatively light. And as long as the ambassador avoids raising issues like contraception or Ulster then he should be able to enjoy his $190,000/year posting in peace and comfort.
So, the position has been handy for the Australian government if ever it needed to reward, bribe, or exile anybody. On the walls of the ambassador's residence Abbey Lea in Killiney may be portraits of these mugs:
Vince Gair: Former premier of Queensland with strong political backing from the Irish catholic electorate. When the Australian Labour Party split in the 1950s, he joined the Democratic Labour Party and from 1960 he served in the Senate representing Queensland. In 1974 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam tried to bribe the 73 year old senator to give up his Senate seat with the offer of ambassadorship, so that the ALP could control the Senate. Conservative Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen thwarted Whitlam's plans by getting the Queensland Governor not to include Gair in issuing writs for Senate vacancies (a phalanx of Joh's men kept Gair occupied in his office feasting on prawns and beer while the writs were being issued, an episode known later as the 'night of the long prawns'). Consequently Labor remained without control of the Senate, and Ireland was displeased to be receiving an Ambassador in such circumstances. Gair was recalled back to Australia two years later after Whitlam was ousted. His sheer opportunism and incongruency for the foreign service is said have helped Barry Humphries model his Sir Les Patterson alter ego.
Brian Burke: ALP Premier of Western Australia from 1983 to 1988. His dealings with several sinister corporate figures like Alan Bond and Laurie Connell who backed the ALP cost West Australian taxpayers a minimum of $600 million, such as the bailing out of Rothwells Merchant Bank. When things looked too hot, Brian Burke resigned to take up the ambassadorship offered by Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Premier Carmen Lawrence in 1990 was compelled to instigate a Royal Commission, which revealed the lagacy of Burke's criminal avarice. Brian Burke was required to resign his commission and return to Australia in 1991, where he his next posting was a two year stint in gaol.
John Halverson: Former federal Liberal Party politician from Victoria, who served as Speaker in the House of Representatives in John Howard's first ministry. He wanted the position to be more impartial; to express this point he chose not to attend party meetings. Yet the government stonewalled him on any attempt to bring in parliamentary reform. John Howard sent him packing to Dublin in 1998.
John Herron: Former doctor, Liberal Party Queensland Senator and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. As minister he was given the politically uncomfortable job of keeping reconciliation off the national agenda. He could have just chosen silence if he disagreed with people over issues such as the stolen generation, but instead he had to quibble over semantics and the motivations of activists. He seemed anachronistically unsuitable for pre-9/11 Australia, and John Howard sent him to Dublin in 2001.
However not all politically appointed ambassadors are rogues - one example is Dr Michael Tate, former ALP Senator from Tasmania and Minister of Justice in Paul Keating's Cabinet who was ambassador from 1993 to 1996. After one meeting with the Pope he chose to become a Roman Catholic priest upon the expiration of his posting. Currently he ministers back in Tasmania in more humble circumstances.