NEW YORK: Former Labor leader Kim Beazley has had his term as Australian ambassador to Washington extended for another 12 months by the man who used to be one of his fiercest political opponents, Tony Abbott.
Mr Beazley will now serve in the crucial role until at least the end of 2016 after the government decided he was doing a brilliant job for Australia in the most sought after posting in the diplomatic corps.
The Australian ambassador has been accompanying Mr Abbott to official functions in New York in the past 24 hours because current consul-general, Nick Minchin – a former Liberal finance minister – had to return to Australia suddenly on the eve of the Prime Minister's visit upon the death of his father.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott greeted Ambassador Kim Beazley before a speech to the American Australian Association in New York. Mr Beazley, a former Labor leader, has had his term as ambassador extended. Photo: Andrew Meares
Flanked by Mr Beazley, Mr Abbott became the first Australian prime minister to visit the National September 11 Memorial explaining it was an honour to pay his respects to the nearly 3000 people killed in those attacks in 2001 in Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and aboard flight 93 at Stoneycreek, Pennsylvania.
"I particularly acknowledge the 10 Australians who died that day," a sombre Mr Abbott said after walking around the two huge sunken water features that occupy the footprints of the downed twin towers.
The names of all who perished are engraved on the continuous brass counters surrounding the enormous aquatic installations.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York pausing at the names of Australian victims. Photo: Andrew Meares
"I remember all the emergency services personnel who responded on that terrible day, particularly those who died," he said, describing the feeling as "quite overwhelming".
He said the attacks constituted "one of the most horrific moments in world history".
Speaking from the trading floor of Wall Street where he rang the bell to start trading on Tueday, Mr Abbott declined to comment specifically on the Beazley appointment saying he would do so shortly, but sources close to him confirmed the decision.
Mr Beazley's extension will take him up to and probably beyond the next US election in which a new US president will be chosen.
The decision to keep him on will reflect well on a government that has presented a somewhat more partisan approach to political appointments than is generally liked by voters. Mr Minchin, for example, was appointed consul-general after former Labor state premier Steve Bracks was stripped of the role as soon as the Coalition won the September election.
Mr Abbott is a great admirer of the ex-Labor heavyweight regarding him as representing the best traditions of the old-style labour movement leader. Mr Beazley has supporters on both sides with many believing he is the best opposition leader in Australia's history never to become prime minister.
But the at least 12-month extension of his appointment – the second since the Coalition came to power – also reflects another reality: that the Coalition has nobody comparable who can offer the kind of continuity and extensive contacts with the Democratic Party in Washington and particularly within the White House.
As Fairfax Media reported first, another failed opposition leader, Alexander Downer had wanted the post but has instead been appointed as High Commissioner in London, filling a job his father Sir Alec Downer once also held.
Sources in Washington suggested at the time of the London appointment that Mr Downer had been rejected for the top post of Washington because his links were limited almost exclusively to the Republican party and thus were of less use to Canberra.
Another suggestion coming from Washington was that Mr Downer's role as a board member of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, over which security services in Australia and the US harbour strong suspicions of cyber-spying, was a factor telling against his appointment in Washington.
Mr Abbott and Mr Beazley will head to the US capital on Wednesday local time for meetings with key legislators such as Speaker, John Boehner, House minority, Nancy Pelosi, and majority leader, Eric Cantor.
A meeting with likely presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton looks like falling through with Ms Clinton promoting a new book, in which she observes that Julia Gillard had been subject to sexism as prime minister.
Mr Abbott would not be drawn on that subject but instead launched a major rhetorical attack on people who love jobs but "hate" the people who create those jobs.
The comments, borrowed from John F Kennedy, were presumably aimed at someone – most likely the ALP – but Mr Abbott also refused to be drawn on that.
Before leaving for DC, Mr Abbott will visit an innovative IBM-related technical school in Brooklyn in a bid to link its study-to-work pathways to the Coalition's budget ethos of earn or learn.
Mr Abbott also met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Tuesday telling the top global official that Australia appreciated the UN's "robust approach to strengthening peace keeping operations" in hot-spots around the world.
Both leaders "agreed on the valuable role of the United Nations in promoting values in support of free, liberal and democratic societies" according to official sources.
But while they agreed on these matters and on the importance of the G20 being chaired by Australia later this year, at which the UN supremo will attend, there was less enthusiasm from Australia on the international co-ordination on climate change.
With the UN Secretary-General chairing a Climate Summit in September, Mr Abbott stopped short of endorsing that process instead arguing that every country should "play its part in reducing emissions", but in a way that did not harm economic development, and therefore delicate global growth and prosperity.