Underworked, Overpaid. The Profligate Life Of An Australian Diplomat

As an Australian expat we see them all over the world: Occupying seats in the Qantas First Class Lounge; Dancing on bartops at the local disco; Negotiating with local sex workers on street corners.

These aren’t cashed-up sex tourists, members of the mafia or CEOs of a dubious company. These are the people who officially represent my country, employees of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia and they live large in foreign lands compliments of the Australian Tax Payer.

Yes, Les Patterson is alive and well and I have met him in many incarnations, but don’t think they are exclusively male.

Covid was no obstacle for Diplomats who, for some unfathomable reason, were not subject to the Public Health Order 2020 which required all people entering Australia to undertake a 14 day mandatory hotel quarantine. Understandably, foreign diplomats are protected under the Vienna Convention and are not to be detained, but Australian DFAT staff in 2020 and 2021 from abroad and self-isolate at home, infecting their households and potentially spreading Covid-19 throughout what was then a covid-free community. Relying on people who can’t keep their hands to themselves to observe safety measures for the good of the country is an unbelievable stretch.

The diplomatic post may or may not be cushy jobs, depends on the situation, but the benefits they receive, at the expense of the tax-paying citizens of Australia, afford them a lavish lifestyle far from the reach of average citizens in wealthy countries such as Switzerland, Japan, Singapore and The United Kingdom.

Breakfast Time

We hear little about the conditions of the DFAT staff abroad but they live the life of an expat executive, only with more perks such as: drivers, swimming pools, luxury accommodation, business/first class flights for home leave, free private education for their children and a salary large enough to party without watching the bar tab.

If you happen to be in the Diplomatic corps and are not this particular variety of creep I feel for you and bare you no ill will. Statistically Australia’s diplomatic staff can’t all behave like this but it only takes one rotten banana to spoil the whole fruit bowl. One friend and former DFAT employee told me that this job is a calling, that diplomats were there to serve their fellow countrymen and, on occasion, the community at large. If only they were all diplomats were taught from the same book. Perhaps they leave the humanitarian aspect out of the Cliff Notes.

There are so many cases of Australian Diplomats abusing their positions and getting away with it, let’s look at just one classic example of this: John Holloway.

Holloway was a celebrated DFAT career man and who worked in our embassies in Indonesia, India, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. Eventually he rose to the rank of Australian Ambassador to The Philippines and thereafter to Cambodia. He chose his missions carefully, there was no mistaking the reason for his seeking out jobs in such countries – it wasn’t because he was partial to coconuts and a beachfront lifestyle.

It was well known in diplomatic circles that John Holloway was a paedophile throughout his career, which started Jakarta in 1966. Yet it wasn’t until 1995 that he, along with 20 other members of DFAT, were called out for their crimes against children, with Australian Liberal MP Ken Aldred claiming that Holloway and other representatives were engaged in “officially tolerated paedophilia” in Australia and abroad.

Ken Aldred was correct. 100% spot on. An internal investigation was called for. The Secretary of DFAT, Michael Costello said that, following a police investigation, there was no evidence to support the allegation.

Finally in 2004 John Holloway was brought back to Australia after being arrested in Cambodia for having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Two Cambodian youths were brought to Australia to testify against this man. Despite what colleagues had seen over the years the magistrate found that the testimony of the Cambodian boys was insufficient. He was also in cahoots with other child abusers in South East Asia, who worked as a team using diplomatic bags to send photos of naked young men to colleagues.

But of course he got off. And he went straight back to Cambodia to live out his days. John Holloway is no longer with us, but I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of nil nisi bonum in the case of child abusers.

There are many other cases, all the information is there online for us.

I saw enough with my own eyes living as an expat in Japan. I was so embarrassed by the Australian Embassy staff in Japan and their disgraceful behaviour in the Roppongi district: publicly soliciting sex workers outside transgender bars; drunk and disorderly behaviour in local drinking establishments. Australian Diplomats jealously guard their privileges and object if other, non-diplomatic Australian government staff have access to their leisure facilities. There seems to be a lot of bullying going on with DFAT workers being the top of the tree. I’ve seen privileges abused in London and Bangkok by employees of my government. Of course, there is nothing I can do about it anymore than onlookers could protect John Holloway’s victims.

Not all of Australia’s representatives overseas are as sinister as the aforementioned but we have our share of incompetent buffoons such as Alexander Downer, a dynastic diplomat from a privileged family who eventually became our foreign minister. During this time he ignored the warnings that proceeded the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 88 Australians in Indonesia. When it came to corruption scandals Little Lord Downer was in a constant state of blissful unawareness. Lucky him.

I was asked if it is wise for me to write about this, what happens if I need help at an Australian Embassy when I am abroad and they know that I’ve spoken out about them. Will they still help me? My answer is that it’s highly unlikely. I have indeed required consular help before, twice. Both times (in 2011 and 2020) I was bitterly disappointed. The embassy staff are the first to jump ship in case of a disaster, such as the 2011 Tsunami in Japan. Never fear, fellow Aussies! They’ll definitely redirect your urgent calls to someone in Australia who doesn’t quite know the names of the two commercial airports in Tokyo but suggests that you fly from to the other. All you need is to organise your own helicopter and get a permit for the route.

I am not sure if it was due to incompetence or just a total lack of interest but they have failed me twice. I will never ask them for help again, I’ll go another government’s agency first. Apparently the Taliban are quick to respond to calls.

Fellow Australians, if you find yourself in Paris during terrorist attacks or find yourself in urgent need of assistance in India and it happens to be the weekend then you are out of luck. The emergency number will either go to voice mail or an annoyed staff member will direct you to the nearest homeless shelter. This is how my friends were treated in recent years.

At the very least they are an embarrassment to Australia and do not promote a good image of our country to the world. It’s time to change the rules. I propose a 360 degree evaluation, where the consumers, such as myself, give their views on their consular experiences. My feedback of the DFAT staff would read something like “lazy, incompetent, selfish. Must do better.”


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