AS A minister, the longest to serve as Australia's chief diplomat in the foreign affairs portfolio, Alexander Downer came to relish an argument - mostly against political opponents but even with public servants.
''I used to always say, 'Out-argue me, convince me'. I spent hours and hours sitting with them, talking to them, not just reading submissions,'' Mr Downer says. ''When I had become minister, they had you circle 'agree' or 'not agree' - so I added 'discuss'. Quite often I'd think, they just want me to sign off on this, let's get them over here … I used to like to make them defend their positions.''
Mr Downer still enjoys a debate and hasn't shied away from the public arena five years after retiring from federal politics. He writes a regular newspaper column in his home town of Adelaide and is at present the focus of intense speculation that he might rejoin the political fray - as leader of the Liberal Party in South Australia.
He has been at the top before, a short and inglorious stint as federal opposition leader. ''Born with the silver cutlery service in his mouth,'' Paul Keating once jibed, part of the regular Labor characterisation of Mr Downer as a patrician stemming from his family's long involvement in conservative politics.
''They seemed to be extremely interested in who my parents were and my background, that seemed to be a huge preoccupation for them,'' Mr Downer says.
''You don't chose your parents, it is just what happens, it is nature's way. I'm more interested in attacking people over the choices they make if I don't agree with them than over the things they can't control.''
Downer came to be known as a spear carrier for John Howard in government, close to the former prime minister and eager to stir trouble with his opponents.
He is being appointed a companion of the Order of Australia for his eminent service to international relations and the community of South Australia.