Aussies say sorry to Clark for briefing gaffe

Last updated 23:54 20/08/2008

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An embarrassed Australia has apologised to Prime Minister Helen Clark over the circulation of a briefing note outlining her "tight control" and saying her foreign policy outlook was shaped by her anti-Vietnam war views.

A Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman said the note was an outdated internal draft and its circulation to media at the Pacific Island Forum in Niue was a mistake that was regretted.

"High commissioner John Dauth has apologised to Miss Clark, who has accepted the apology," the spokeswoman said. "Miss Clark has said publicly she regarded the incident as a `pretty minor thing' and that she had `had a bit of a laugh'."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is understood to be angry about the briefing, which was prepared for journalists covering his first official visit to New Zealand this week and has been made public as he and Miss Clark attended the forum.

Miss Clark shrugged it off, saying it was "a hoot" and joked she had similar notes about him.

The background papers, prepared for Australian media, say Miss Clark does not trust anyone outside her closely knit Beehive coterie, and oversees every facet of government.

"She is renowned for her managerial skills, the discipline she demands from those around her and her tight control of all things Labour undertakes under her leadership.

"She holds generally leftwing beliefs with foreign policy perspectives forged during the Vietnam war.

"She does not trust those outside the small circle in Labour and her chief-of-staff, Heather Simpson, is known as the second most powerful person in New Zealand [known as H2]."

Miss Clark laughed off the description yesterday but refused to say whether she felt it was accurate.

"I thought it was quite funny, but as I say, if I was to have my CVs of other leaders fall off the back of trucks, you'd all have a lot of laughs as well." She said she was not offended, but surprised the briefing appeared to be old.

The Australian comments echo a pen portrait of Miss Clark written by leading Wellington lobbyist Mark Unsworth in 2006, which described her as "intelligent rather than brilliant" and a "control freak".

It is not the first time Australian officials have been left red-faced over their too-frank descriptions of leading politicians.

In 1997, a confidential 93-page paper marked "AUSTEO" (for Australian Eyes Only) described deputy prime minister at the time Winston Peters as "a loose cannon" and an "opportunist" who was yet to shake off his reputation for laziness, inattention to detail and erratic behaviour - though he was also described as having a commanding presence and impressive physique.

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- The Dominion Post

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