Officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have questioned the posting of Tony Abbott’s daughter Louise to an Australian embassy headed by a former Liberal staffer Peter Woolcott.
The Fairfax media report comes just days after news broke that another of the Prime Minister’s daughters, Frances, was awarded a $60,000 chairman’s scholarship to attend the Whitehouse Institute of Design. The prestigious design institute is chaired by Liberal Party donor Les Taylor.
Insiders at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were “annoyed” and “concerned” over Ms Abbott’s appointment in Geneva due to the political connections of the embassy’s head, according to the report.
Mr Woolcott, who was chief of staff to foreign minister Alexander Downer from 2002-2004 during a secondment from DFAT, was appointed as the ambassador to Geneva in 2010. He is not a member of the Liberal Party.
Ms Abbott started her role as an executive assistant at the embassy in September, 2012. Since that time, she has performed high-level tasks such as making a public statement on disarmament, raising eyebrows among some DFAT officials in Canberra, the report said.
DFAT said that the position of executive assistant to Australia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva was publicly advertised.
“The recruitment process was merit-based and followed department procedures. During that process, a three-member selection committee interviewed five applicants from a field of 28.
“Ms Abbott’s appointment was formally approved by the relevant delegate, Australia’s then-permanent representative to the [World Trade Organisation] in Geneva on September 14, 2012.”
In other developments, Mr Abbott has denied that he was lobbied to allow private colleges with access to government subsidies by the head of the Whitehouse Institute of Design when he was once again questioned about his daughter France’s scholarship.
In the past, Mr Abbott has declared other matters relating to his children, including trips, accommodation and tickets to sporting events on the public register. Frances’ scholarship, however, was not declared.
The Whitehouse Institute of Design’s chairman, Les Taylor, has previously made donations to the NSW Liberal Party. In addition, Mr Taylor, who has known Mr Abbott for many years, has also given items of clothing to the Prime Minister. The clothing was also declared on the public interest register.
Mr Abbott told reporters that the questions over his daughter’s scholarship were “a bit of dirt-digging” and added that she earned the award on merit.
” … Families should be left out of it,” he said.
Asked whether he was personally lobbied by Mr Taylor for private college subsidies, Mr Abbott responded: “No, I wasn’t.”
Mr Abbott said that he had complied with Parliament’s disclosure rules.
The Whitehouse Institute is a member of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. Before the Federal Budget, the council had lobbied the government to extend commonwealth-supported places beyond public universities.