One of my greatest regrets is that I was living in Thailand (doing my PhD research) during Alexender Downer’s eight-month tenure as leader of the Liberal Party in Australia. Downer’s opposition leadership was a comical, bumbling, liberal stuff-up. And I missed it! My mother’s regular ration packs of Sydney Morning Herald front pages kept me in touch with events back home, but it wasn’t the same as bathing in the accident-prone leadership glow of the “idiot son of the Adelaide aristocracy” (to use Paul Keating’s classic phrase).
Downer, of course, went quietly. He handed the leadership over to John Howard and was rewarded by an 11-year stint as Foreign Minister. Now, finding himself once again on the opposition benches, Downer has decided that parliamentary representation is not for him. There is talk of a peace-making post with the UN.
But what was his impact in southeast Asia? What was his legacy in the region? To mark this mini-milestone in Australia’s political history let’s get some reflections from New Mandala readers on Lord Downer’s contribution to diplomacy and comedy in southeast Asia. Eye-witness accounts of Downer-diplomacy in action would be particularly appreciated.