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Downer lays out retirement plans -

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Downer lays out retirement plans

The World Today - Thursday, 3 July , 2008 12:38:00

Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

ELEANOR HALL: One of the worst kept secrets in politics of late has been the impending retirement
of Alexander Downer.

Today he has made the official announcement and will leave federal politics within a fortnight.

Mr Downer says he is hoping to be appointed by the United Nations as a special envoy to Cyprus but
that in the first instance he's setting up a consultancy in Adelaide with former Labor minister
Nick Bolkus.

Mr Bolkus spoke to Alexandra Kirk a short time ago about teaming up with an old political foe.

NICK BOLKUS: We were sparring partners for quite a long time but I think the fundamental thing
about federal politics is it's a very dehumanising environment and secondly though we started and
we gave each other character references over many years, we did it from a distance.

I've taken over the last couple of years advice from people like Mike Wran in South Australia and
others who have told me that Alexander was a person that they could very easily work with and get
on with, and I've actually found that myself.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is it right that you only had one conversation with Alexander Downer while you were
in parliament together, and a brief one at that?

NICK BOLKUS: That's right. In 32 years of travelling to Canberra, and I'm sure Alexander would have
been travelling for most of that time if not longer, there was one very quick conversation on a
plane when we were sitting next to each other.

So we used to give each other character references from afar. We had some pretty intense
disagreements on policy but I think one of the under recognised features of federal politics is
that the conflict that one sees on TV is basically the tip of the iceberg.

You spend a lot of time working with people who you don't necessarily share policy outcomes with
but you work with and you work constructively with and this is going to be no different.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Presumably you never thought that you'd be working with Alexander Downer.

NICK BOLKUS: Oh look, I think there's no doubt about that, and I think he probably never thought
he'd be working with me. And not only that, I think our colleagues are probably a bit surprised at
it as well.

But I'd look at the fact that for instance in South Australia he's done some pretty critical work
for Labor governments as well as Liberal governments and over the last three years I've stayed away
from political controversy and political debate.

So, they're new chapters in both of our lives and we'll bring different perspectives to the table
but perspectives that will be under the umbrella of shared values and outcomes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well do you think people might see you as a bit of an odd couple?

NICK BOLKUS: Look, that starts with our wives I think. I'm sure people will see us as a bit of an
odd couple but look at any board room, look at this through the prism of the non-Canberra world.
Look at it through the prism for instance of the corporate world.

Boards across the country bring people from different backgrounds and different philosophies
together and that's a strength of a board. And though they might see us as an odd couple I think
it's a formula that's applied consistently through the corporate world and I expect it will apply
quite successfully with us.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Bolkus, you're of Greek descent. How do you view Alexander Downer's aspiration
to be appointed UN special envoy for Cyprus?

NICK BOLKUS: I think he was asked to do that by the Secretary-General. I think he was asked whether
he was interested and that's one of those issues that I was involved with even before I got into
federal politics.

In 1974 I went to Cyprus as a special emissary of the Australian Government. Now his experiences
over the last 11 years as foreign minister I think will equip him extremely well to be able to
handle the labyrinth of issues that still flow from Cyprus.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Wasn't it you that accused Mr Downer of great hypocrisy when he met the
then-president of Cyprus?

NICK BOLKUS: Oh look I think anyone can go to the Hansard and find Mr Downer accusing me of similar
sorts of behaviour. The fact is that he has this mission and he's been recognised by both the
Greeks and I believe the Turkish Cypriots as being a person who can handle it and I've got
confidence in him taking it forward.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So any advice for your business partner now on the Cyprus job?

NICK BOLKUS: Oh I think the only advice you'd give him is not to wear fishnet stockings any more.

ELEANOR HALL: That's former Labor minister Nick Bolkus, now Alexander Downer's new business
partner. He was speaking to Alexandra Kirk.