Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Tim Fischer appointed resident Australian ambassador to Holy See

In a significant foreign policy decision, the Australian government has appointed former Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer as Australia's first resident ambassador to the Holy See.

The West Australian reports Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced during a farewell ceremony for the Pope that Mr Fischer, a former leader of the National Party, would take up the newly created role in Rome.

"Today I announce that for the first time Australia will have a resident ambassador to the Holy See in Rome," Mr Rudd said as the Pope sat beside him.

"And today I announce the government will be recommending to his excellency the Governor-General the appointment of the former deputy prime minister of Australia the honourable Tim Fischer as Australia's first resident ambassador to the Holy See," Mr Rudd said.

Foreign minister Stephen Smith added that it was the right time to appoint a resident ambassador to the Vatican.

Traditionally, Australia's ambassador to Ireland has had responsibility for the Vatican, with the post of ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See presently occupied by career diplomat Anne Plunkett.

"The Prime Minister and I came to the conclusion in the run-up to World Youth Day that having established diplomatic relations (with the Vatican) in 1973, that given there are another 69 countries that have another ambassador in residence ... that it was appropriate that we become the 70th," Mr Smith told reporters today.

"The Vatican do not accept the ambassador to Italy as an ambassador to the Vatican, they are separate states.

"Our ambassador in Rome has plenty to do with our Italian relations. We came to the conclusion that it was appropriate at this point in the cycle to have a fully fledged ambassador in residence.

"(The Vatican) has significant interests and significant influence and size is not often the best qualitative judge of the influence that a particular state ... or interest might bring to bear.”

Mr Rudd introduced Mr Fischer to the Pope at Sydney airport today, giving the pair an opportunity to speak briefly before the pontiff's departure from Australia following week long World Youth Day celebrations.

Mr Smith said Mr Fischer had plenty of experience on the world stage as a former trade minister and deputy prime minister.

"Tim's a person who can strike up a conversation with anyone and I think that's a particular attribute and asset that he'll bring to bear ... he is very well regarded,” Mr Smith said.

A former Australian deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, says it was an unexpected honour and privilege to be appointed the country's first resident ambassador to the Vatican.

Mr Fischer says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called him a week ago with the offer of the position.

He says his role will include liaising with people from a range of religious backgrounds.

"For example, the Australian government strongly supports inter-faith dialogue in Islam, Maronite, Buddhist and so forth, and Jewish faith and so it involves activities in that regard," he said.

"It involves activities of representing Australia and a large number of Australians who at any one time are officially at the nation state of the Vatican and networking."

Mr Rudd said Australia would join 69 other nations with resident ambassadors at the Vatican.