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Downer's diplomatic Twitter faux pas, Tiser journo jumps to Govt

Notes on Adelaide

Welcome to Notes on Adelaide – a new column telling the inside stories of Adelaide’s people, institutions and issues. Today, prominent Adelaide journalists join the State Government’s media unit, Alexander Downer’s diplomatic incident, and the South Australian who should have been Governor-General.

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Advertiser reporter joins Marshall team

It’s been the worst-kept secret in Adelaide’s media: The Advertiser’s “morning correspondent” Katrina Stokes is set to join Steven Marshall’s growing team of spin doctors.

To the consternation of Labor and some of her News Corp colleagues, Stokes has been working out her notice in the Tiser newsroom, including co-authoring a story last week about a proposed new State Government solution to the log-jam at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

This morning she was Tweeting – ostensibly as an Advertiser journalist – about the “design flaws” of the new RAH.

When former Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis took to Twitter to suggest Stokes include a disclaimer about her impending change in employment (mistakenly suggesting Stokes was about to join Health Minister Stephen Wade’s office – she’s actually going to work for ministers Rachel Sanderson and Michelle Lensink), she responded in the following fashion:

InDaily asked Stokes today about the criticism of her situation, which still has some time to play out.

“I don’t have anything to say, I’m sorry,” she said.

Meanwhile, former News Corp journalist, Channel Ten newsreader and talkback radio host Belinda Heggen will join Marshall’s media team on Monday, looking after Treasurer Rob Lucas. Channel Nine reporter Kim Robertson is also joining the media team in a few weeks.

Former public servant Todd Clappis recently started as media adviser to Education Minister John Gardner. Clappis worked in a communications role in the Premier’s Department under the previous government.

Downer’s Twitter faux pas

Alexander Downer still had control of the Twitter account of the Australian High Commissioner to the UK two weeks after he left the role – and used the official account to support his daughter Georgina’s political aspirations.

The secretary of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, Frances Adamson, last night confirmed that Downer had mistakenly used the account, instead of his own, to support Georgina’s bid for preselection in the South Australian seat of Mayo.

 She said it wasn’t permissible for serving diplomats to support domestic party-political campaigns.

Adamson confirmed the sequence of events under questioning in an Estimates Committee from South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong, who read out three Tweets from Georgina Downer, from May 11, all of which were retweeted by the High Commissioner’s official account.

 “It would not have been appropriate for Alexander Downer as a serving diplomat or APS officer to have sent that Tweet,” Adamson said. “So he was no longer employed by us at that stage.”

Foreign Affairs officials later confirmed that it took about 90 minutes for High Commission staff in London to realise the breach of protocol, after which they swiftly changed the password on the official Twitter account and deleted the Tweets.

The incident prompted the department to remind its global network of offices to change social media passwords when staff leave their posts.

Bemused Defence Minister Marise Payne said it was “generous” of Wong to give publicity to Georgina Downer’s campaign.

The Governor-General we should have had

Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson was in Adelaide this week to deliver the annual Lowitja O’Donoghue oration, in honour of the great South Australian.

Pearson says O’Donoghue, twice Australian of the Year and the first chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, should have been appointed Australia’s 23rd Governor-General in 2001 (instead the Howard Government appointed Peter Hollingworth, who resigned a few years later).

“Who today would not concede she was twice as worthy as the ill-starred Hollingworth in 2001? This lost opportunity cost the country woe,” Pearson said in his oration on Tuesday.

Perhaps more interesting, however, was Pearson’s assessment of O’Donoghue’s role in charge of ATSIC – and her centrality to the enactment of federal legislation to give shape to the High Court’s historic Mabo decision.

She was responsible for ATSIC’s best years, Pearson said, from its inception to the end of the Keating government in 1996.

“They were years of great coherence in indigenous affairs, before the national commission’s egregious poor leadership played into the hands of the Howard Government’s antipathy,” he said.

“There were two ATSICs – one under Lowitja and the other after. It failed at the national level after Lowitja’s term as chair expired, but it was always a force for good at the regional level.

“Without Lowitja’s ATSIC we would never have defended Eddie Mabo’s great legacy and negotiated the Native Title Act and Indigenous Land Fund….

“She was the rock who steadied us in the storm. Resolute, scolding, warm and generous – courageous, steely, gracious and fair. She held the hardest leadership brief in the nation and performed it bravely and with distinction.”

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