The head of the ALP in the United Kingdom says it would be “outrageous” to prematurely end the term of Mike Rann as Australia’s high commissioner in London and replace him with Alexander Downer.
It’s been reported the coalition is planning to cut short the tenure of the former South Australian Labor premier in favour of Mr Downer, an ex-Howard government minister.
Fairfax Media says the federal government was hoping to keep the switch under wraps until after the SA state election in mid-March.
ALP Abroad president Paul Smith says if the report is accurate it would set an “extraordinary precedent”.
“It’s bad for Australia to prematurely terminate people for no good reason apart from the fact you want to give one of your mates the top job,” London-based Mr Smith told AAP.
“The government has no interest in how Australia is perceived abroad – they are only interested in rewarding their own mates. It’s outrageous.”
Mr Smith said Mr Rann had not been partisan in any way but Tony Abbott’s government had adopted a “third-rate banana republic-type approach to this important representative role”.
Countries around the world would no longer be able to trust that the people they were dealing with would remain in their post long term, he argued.
Labor accused the coalition of being petty and vindictive after the 2013 election when it immediately reversed a decision to appoint former Victorian Labor premier Steve Bracks as Australia’s consul-general in New York.
Former federal Liberal finance minister Nick Minchin has now been given the job instead.
Mr Rann has reportedly been worried about his job security since taking up the London posting in late 2012.
Before Mr Abbott was elected prime minister the high commissioner kept a fairly low profile knowing the coalition was likely to win power.
In contrast to previous mission heads, Mr Rann didn’t cast the first pre-poll ballot at London House ahead of the federal election.
The former ALP national president also declined to host the usual meet’n’greet with the Australian press pack in late 2013.
The high commission in London refused to comment on the Fairfax report instead directing questions to the foreign affairs department in Canberra.
Comment is being sought from DFAT.