To the Editor,
I refer to the article by Eloïse Mignon ‘An Uneasy Ambassador’ in the Winter 2019 edition, based around a function I hosted as Australian Ambassador to France for a group of visiting dance companies to Paris in 2015.
This article is based on misinterpretations and plain inaccuracies. It is unfortunate that the author or Meanjin did not check the story with me or anyone at the embassy before publication.
The author infers that I am hypocritical because I was ‘forced to hide my partner in the car so that Tony Abbott wouldn’t have to acknowledge a gay partnership’ while at the same time I ‘had a picture of him’ (the then PM) on my wall. This is both offensive and untrue.
The public entrance of the Embassy in Paris contains photographs of the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as do most of Australia’s overseas missions. To link this with Ms Mignon’s account of what she thinks happened at the airport beforehand is mischievous. For the record, my partner was part of the informal greeting party. The Prime Minister disembarked from the aircraft and shook his hand: he did not ‘hide in the car’.
It would have been perfectly reasonable for Ms Mignon to have written an article critical of the then government’s arts funding policies. She appears to be across the policy and funding issues at that time, which I am not. What is not reasonable is to construct such an argument on inaccuracies and unwarranted personal attacks.
The author infers criticism that there were paintings by Jeffrey Smart and Rover Thomas at the Australian Residence in Paris at a time when funding cuts were apparently imposed on many arts organisations by the government. There were no works by either artist in the embassy.
To suggest some type of conspiracy by hosting a function in Paris for a talented group of Australian performers, while controversial funding decisions were made by the Arts Minister in Canberra, is so tendentious as to be laughable.
The reception—which was not lavish—was proposed by the Cultural Attaché who had been working closely with the various companies to ensure a successful visit to Paris. During my time as ambassador I hosted many similar functions to acknowledge the contribution of Australian performing artists, musicians, singers, writers, sports teams and other distinguished individuals when they came to Paris, one of the world’s pre-eminent cultural capitals. There is nothing ‘suspicious’ or out of the ordinary about an ambassador hosting such an event. Ms Mignon seems to resent the hospitality, whereas everyone else expressed their appreciation for it.
The presence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Julie Bishop, in Paris at the same time was a fortuitous coincidence. Her willingness to fit the function into her busy schedule and to take the time to talk to as many dancers as possible speaks loudly of her own support for the contribution Australian cultural bodies make to supporting our global diplomatic efforts, as they are able to project a positive image of Australia to a wider audience. To suggest otherwise is churlish and mean spirited.
Finally I must call out Ms Mignon’s offensive proposition that I only related the horrific story of the transhipment of Jews during World War II from the land the embassy sits on out of personal shame for wishing to conceal that I am gay. Had she the decency to ask (or taken the time to conduct a basic Google search) she would have found out that by then I had been openly in a same-sex relationship for 32 years. She would also have learnt how, in 1999, my partner and I became the first ever same-sex couple in history anywhere in the world to be both posted and received officially at the level of Ambassador. And had she further inquired, she would also have ascertained that I am the proud son and grandson of Jewish refugees who ended up in Australia after escaping Nazi persecution in World War II.
Stephen Brady AO CVO