Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks sacked by Julie Bishop in ‘vindictive’ decision

Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks has been sacked from his appointment as New York consul-general by the incoming Abbott Government. New Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Federal election 2013 coverageBishop opts for payback politics

Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks has been sacked from his position as Australia’s consul-general in New York – before he officially started in his new role –  in a decision described as ”petty and vindictive” by Labor.

Fairfax Media understands that one of incoming foreign minister Julie Bishop’s first decisions in her new position was to sack Mr Bracks on Monday.

Mr Bracks concluded previous employment in preparation to take up his position, which was to start this month.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard appointed Mr Bracks in May and the decision was immediately met with opposition from the Coalition.

Ms Bishop said in May that the timing of the appointment was ”inappropriate” because of its proximity to the election, and warned that any decisions would be reviewed.

She described Labor as ”arrogant” for appointing Mr Bracks without consulting the Coalition.

Fairfax Media understands there were two main reasons why the incoming Foreign Minister Julie Bishop decided to fire Mr Bracks.

First, it is understood Ms Bishop thought it inappropriate that she was not consulted about Mr Bracks’ appointment given the election was only a few months away. Nor was she impressed that Mr Bracks made no attempt to contact her.

Second, Ms Bishop thought it inappropriate that Mr Bracks was weighing into Labor politics during the federal election campaign, given he was now a diplomat. In July, Mr Bracks backed the one-time candidate Geoff Lake for pre-selection in Hotham.

While Ms Bishop did not oppose political appointments per se, the Coalition felt that people appointed that way should have the ear of the government of the day, which Mr Bracks would not have had with the Abbott government.

Acting foreign minister Tanya Plibersek condemned the decision in a statement saying it was ”petty and vindictive”.

She said in a statement that it was ”telling” that the first act of Tony Abbott in foreign affairs was to fire Mr Bracks.

”It is telling that the first act of an Abbott government is to play party politics in international affairs,” Ms Plibersek said.

”It also reflects a new low in diplomatic practice,” citing the Liberal appointment of former minister Amanda Vanstone as ambassador to Italy, and allowed her to continue her term.

Ms Vanstone was appointed in April 2007, seven months before the election in November 2007.

Ms Plibersek said Mr Bracks was eminently qualified for the position and questioned who would now be sent in his place.

”Is there a current or former Liberal MP on a promise for a diplomatic role?” she asked, adding that the government was not in caretaker mode when the appointment was made.

Mr Bracks said in a statement that he had been informed of Ms Bishop’s decision in a phone call on Monday night from the department secretary.

He said he had started in the role in August and spent the past month consulting business and government leaders.

”I was pleased with the support I received during these consultations, where there was significant recognition of my background as premier of Victoria for eight years and as one of Australia’s leaders in the funds management industry for the last six years,” he said.

Mr Bracks added that he would look for more work in funds management.

Later, Mr Bracks appeared to put on a brave face.

He told Channel Seven: “It’s a new government, they make their decisions. I was happy to serve in that role, I thought I’d do a good job … but I’ll leave it up to them to find someone else for that role.”

Ms Bishop’s office has been contacted for comment.

But incoming Attorney-General George Brandis said Labor had given Mr Bracks the job as ”a gift”.

”Mr Bracks has no obvious credentials for that job,’’ he told Sky News on Tuesday.

Incoming Coalition minister Malcolm Turnbull criticised Labor for making appointments such as Mr Bracks’ ”literally on the eve of the beginning of the caretaker period”.

But outgoing special minister of state Mark Dreyfus said in a statement that the Coalition’s view misunderstood the caretaker conventions, saying claims that the government should have consulted the opposition on Mr Bracks’ appointment are wrong.

”In this election, the House of Representatives was dissolved on 5 August 2013 at 5.30pm – the signal for the start of the caretaker period. Mr Bracks was appointed on 16 May 2013, that is, more than 11 weeks before the start of the caretaker conventions,” the statement said.

”There is no basis for the suggestion that months before an election is called the Opposition should be consulted about appointments.”

Victoria’s Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the decision was a partisan, petty and vindictive first act for a new government.

‘‘To axe Steve Bracks from this position simply because he is not a Liberal really does Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott no credit at all – it is petty, it is partisan, and it is not the sort of national leadership that Tony Abbott promised,’’ Mr Andrews said.

‘‘In many respects they have fallen at the first hurdle.’’

Mr Andrews said he would be surprised if Premier Denis Napthine endorsed the decision.

‘‘I would have thought that Denis Napthine would be able to recognise that Steve Bracks had given significant service to our state and was well placed to serve our nation in this important position in New York,’’ he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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