Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Richard Butler (diplomat)
Life and career
Butler was born in Coolah in rural New South Wales, but grew up in Sydney and was educated at Sydney University and the Australian National University, Canberra. He joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1965, and served in a number of postings until 1975, when he resigned to become Principal Private Secretary to the Australian Labor Party Opposition Leader, Gough Whitlam, who had recently been dismissed as Prime Minister.
In 1983 the next Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, appointed him as Australia's Permanent Representative on Disarmament to the United Nations in Geneva. He was next appointed Australian Ambassador to Thailand, and played a major part in the Cambodian peace settlement, working closely with then Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. He was Australian Ambassador to the United Nations from 1992 to 1997.
Butler at UNSCOM
In 1997 Butler was appointed Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the UN weapons inspection organisation in Iraq, in succession to Rolf Ekéus. In this role he antagonised both the Iraqi regime and the United States, and was frequently described as arrogant and aggressive. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan rebuked him for using "undiplomatic" language about then Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
- "following Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait, it became clear that the Saddam Hussein government had created a range and quality of weapons of mass destruction that was truly alarming. Iraq had also acquired a very considerable long-range missile force to deliver those weapons. There was also concern about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, which through the International Atomic Energy Agency, we now know was advanced. It was for these reasons that the Security Council imposed very heavy, very strict requirements upon Iraq for the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of those weapons, and all of that to be done under international supervision."
He also accused Iraq of actively concealing its weapons and obstructing UNSCOM's work:
- "Iraq never kept its side of the bargain by: not making honest disclosure statements of its prohibited weapons and weapons capability; unilaterally destroying weapons in order to ensure that the Commission would never know the full nature and scope of what it had held and this, under circumstances where the law required that all destruction be conducted under international supervision; and, through the pursuit of an active policy and practice of concealing weapons and proscribed components from the Commission."
In a 1999 interview he said:
- "I like to refer to the existence of the "anti-UNSCOM industry." They have an enormous bureaucracy, established for the purpose of defeating UNSCOM, run by a high government committee, with a government ministry, called the National Monitoring Directorate. I mean, Tariq Aziz directs this. And there's no question that for every person we would put into the field, they would have ten. I mean, I wonder whether it's not the second largest industry in Iraq, after the oil industry. I mean, it's a very big show. They have been extremely active in seeking to defeat our work. That's been a big problem for us."
In 1998 Iraq accused Butler and other UNSCOM officials of acting as spies for the United States, and expelled the UNSCOM weapons inspectors from Iraq. A number of media reports in the United States suggested that there was some substance to the allegations. Both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, citing anonymous sources, said that Butler had known of and co-operated with a US electronic eavesdropping operation that allowed intelligence agents to monitor military communications in Iraq. This was confirmed by UNSCOM insider Rod Barton on Australian television in February 2005. This intelligence was used to target US air attacks on Iraq.
Butler denied these allegations, and was publicly supported by Kofi Annan, but Annan was reported to be privately seeking Butler's resignation, which occurred a few months later. After leaving UNSCOM in 1999 Butler was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the Council of Foreign Relations.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Butler, despite his earlier criticism of Saddam Hussein, opposed the US-led invasion and Australian participation in it. In July 2003 he called for the resignations of Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who he said had misled the Australian people over the war.
Governor of Tasmania
In August 2003 the Labor Premier Jim Bacon announced the appointment of Butler as Governor of Tasmania for a five-year term. He was sworn in on October 3. Although the office is largely ceremonial, Butler was paid an annual salary of A$370,000, higher than that for any other Australian state Governor, and higher even than the Governor-General's salary. His appointment was criticised on the grounds that he was not Tasmanian by either birth or association, that he was too closely identified with the Labor Party, and that he was a republican, and thus not a suitable person to represent the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II, in Tasmania.
- "The Sydney-born Mr Butler - who has visited 90 countries and lived in 20 - has hardly spent any time in Tasmania at all. Tenuous though his links to the state may be, it is not his "outsider" status that is at issue. More to the point is that Mr Butler is an avowed, indeed, a vociferous republican. In a state where the role of Queen's representative is taken seriously, that may lead to a degree of suspicion among Her Majesty's more loyal subjects."
Butler sought to ease such fears by saying: "I will give no gratuitous offence to any monarchist. It would be pointless and offensive to do so. The day will come when the next part of the Australian story will be told, but in the meantime we get on with our story today and the process of building and making Tasmania grow."
He added: "I hope my international knowledge, my contacts, my experience in the global environment will enable me to make a contribution to the growing international awareness of Tasmania."
He married Dr Jennifer Grey, his third wife, the day after he was sworn in as Governor, and commenced his term by leaving for a three-week overseas honeymoon. Some observers felt this was an inappropriate way to show his commitment to the people of Tasmania. Criticisms of various kinds continued thereafter. When Butler made public comment on domestic and international affairs, the Premier, Paul Lennon, asked him to refrain from doing so.
In early August 2004, the Tasmanian Liberal Opposition Leader, Rene Hidding , withdrew his support from Butler, and a federal Labor MP, Harry Quick, also criticised him. In the same week, three long-serving staff members at Government House resigned. They have not revealed their reasons. It has been reported that the head of the Premier's Department Linda Hornsey told one of the staff members to resign or be sacked, but at whose instigation this was is not known.
These departures occurred while Butler was once again on leave, this time for two weeks, during which time he made three public appearances, as "Governor of Tasmania", in performances of Samuel Barber's Lincoln Portrait (a work for speaker and orchestra) with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Reporters tried to speak to Butler while on his way to rehearsals of this work, but were told to leave him and his wife alone as they were "on holiday".
When asked for his view of the growing public controversy about Butler's performance and behaviour as Governor, the Prime Minister John Howard said he would not comment on a matter reserved for state authorities, but he nevertheless made the point, repeatedly, that "this was not my appointment". (However, a few days later he expressed the view that the appointment had always been "inappropriate" given Mr Butler's anti-monarchist stance.)
On the evening of August 9, after a three-hour meeting with Lennon to discuss the issues, Butler tendered his resignation with immediate effect. It was agreed that he and his wife could remain at Government House until September 3. Butler then issued a press release, referring to "malicious" attacks on him and his wife. "It is with great sadness that I take this decision," he said in the statement. "I have always acted with the best interests of the state at heart and, consistent with that, I felt bound to make this decision."
The real reasons for Butler's resignation remained a mystery. His supporters said he had been hounded from office by monarchists and the Murdoch press. It is true that the Murdoch-owned Hobart newspaper The Mercury ran a series of articles critical of Butler's performance in the lead-up to his resignation. These aired such matters as his lengthy honeymoon, his alleged inability to get on with staff, and his allegedly arrogant and patronising manner.
On August 5 The Mercury carried an article reporting the University of Tasmania political scientist Richard Herr as saying that "recent goings-on at Government House appeared inconsistent with legislation attached to the office of Governor." Some of the matters raised included an alleged breach of protocol in the welcome of Botswana's High Commissioner and a luncheon given for him, at which Dr Jennifer Butler officiated. It was alleged that this function should have been hosted by the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, who had greeted the High Commissioner in the Governor's absence overseas.
Writers at the usually well-informed Australian online news and opinion website Crikey.com.au offered several explanations for the crisis. One writer said: "It appears that News Ltd (the Murdoch publishing company) has an agenda to have him removed, and seem to be very poorly informed. For example in today's Mercury, they are on the case again saying that the three top aides have resigned because the place is a shambles. Well, that is not true."
This writer continued: "What is the Mercury 's agenda, and what exactly is its motivation, that would make a good story. Ask about the get-Butler memo doing the rounds in News Ltd, and ask where did it originate, the answer could be surprising."
Another writer at Crikey.com.au, however, described Butler as "a rude and arrogant bore, not able to get on with his staff, let alone his constituents." This writer quoted Dr Richard Herr from the University of Tasmania as saying that there were "real legal and constitution queries over the things Butler is doing." These included "changes to the office instigated by the Butlers [that] may amount to conventional and constitutional impropriety."
The day after Butler's resignation, Premier Paul Lennon said that he had offered Butler an ex gratia payment of A$650,000 in compensation for the loss of four years' expected income from the remainder of his five-year term. This payment, which was not constitutionally required, was widely criticised in the press and by the Tasmanian Opposition. Both the Prime Minister, John Howard and the federal Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, were critical of the payment, which Latham described as "sickening."
Books by Richard Butler
- The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Crisis of Global Security (ISBN 1586480391).
- Fatal Choice: Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Missile Defense (ISBN 0813340977)
- Richard Butler - Exclusive to Saxton Speakers Bureau
- Butler's 1999 speech on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
- Butler interview on the work of UNSCOM and spying allegations
- Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury article 5 August 2004
- News story on Butler's resignation as Governor of Tasmania
- Governor of Tasmania - Official site
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