The former Member for Longman's surprise visit to Iraq is drawing plenty of criticism. The ALP's Penny Wong was perhaps the most savage, advising him that Iraq was not a 'place for people to act out their boyhood fantasies', while the foreign minister was also willing to criticise her former colleague in only slightly more diplomatic language, labeling his actions 'irresponsible'.
So should we accept that, now that Wyatt Roy is a private citizen released from the strictures of office, he should be allowed to do what he wishes?
To begin with, there appears to have been little that was private about this visit. Mr Roy's trip to 'see a mate' and speak to captains of Kurdish industry and policy-makers to inform himself of the situation, sounds defensible. But you don't serve in politics without learning a thing or two about self-promotion, and while Mr Roy may not be over-endowed with judgment, he has certainly retained his media savvy. It appears he was traveling for at least part of the time with a UK strategic communications representative from the conservative side of politics, which likely goes some of the way to explaining how this private research trip suddenly resulted in an exclusive story complete with still and video footage broadcast by SBS, followed by an exclusive op-ed for The Australian.
The op-ed was part travelogue, part random foreign policy mutterings. Roy suggested Canberra push for Kurdish independence in Iraq, which must have had DFAT shaking its head in bemusement. Comparing the Kurdish region with Dubai and then with East Timor left me befuddled, I must admit. Still, having complained about the lack of Australian diplomatic representation in Erbil when there were 'like, 27 other countries' diplomatically represented, reasoned thought about the broader regional context and Australia's interests doesn't appear to be Roy's strong suit.
If this episode were just about a self-aggrandising visit to northern Iraq with an accompanying media blitz we could dismiss it as simply the actions of an ex-politician trying to maintain a profile. But it is potentially more serious than this. If something had happened to Roy while he was there, even something as common as a car accident, it is likely the Peshmerga would be on the phone to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad seeking assistance for another Australian traveler in trouble overseas. Only this time it wouldn't be some drunk tourist in Bali who lost his passport, it would be an ex-minister in a war zone. And in an active conflict zone a car accident may well be the least of his (and consequently the Australian government's) problems.
There is also the rather clumsy way a recent ex-minister from the Coalition government has publicly contravened the travel advice issued by his former colleague so that she had no alternative but to publicly criticise him. Politics is hard enough without having one of your own go all Walter Mitty on you.
Photo by Flickr user Giorgio Montersino.