This is the text of an editorial from The Times of London.
When in Rome: The Australian Prime Minister’s impressive hotel bill
It takes a lot to shock an Australian. Indeed, about 500,000 volts are normally required to have any impact. But Senator Robert Ray spoke for a nation yesterday when he pronounced himself utterly “shocked” by the A$45,000 (£18,000) bill acquired by John Howard, the Prime Minister, for his four-night stay in the Royal Suite of the St Regis Grand Hotel in Rome. The Italian Government appears to have been equally stunned as it has, contrary to protocol, refused to pick up the tab. It has not helped that Mr Howard is also under fire for laying down a wine cellar at public expense four years ago. This was sold as a long-term investment for dealing with the demands of foreign dignitaries. Alas, as one envious Opposition spokesman put it: “They’ve guzzled the lot.”
Australians, normally a hardy and frugal bunch, will be deliciously appalled by this sort of extravagance. These are a people who customarily manage to travel around the whole planet for a year accompanied only by a backpack and yet return with more money than they had at the start of the voyage. A man once known as “Honest John” (perhaps destined now to be renamed “Hilton John”) seems to have let down his fellow citizens. Although a leader is surely entitled to travel in a little style, and the St Regis is a cut above Guido’s bed and breakfast located somewhere on the other side of the Vatican, A$45,000 does look excessive.
Or is it? Rome is the eternal city and thus the home of the eternal hotel bill. As early as the 2nd century AD, Juvenal observed: “Everything in Rome – at a price.” That comment Mr Howard appears to have taken up as a personal challenge. This has long been known as Caesar’s town, not least because the locals will caesar your money by one method or another. Mr Howard, whose office insists that he did not avail himself of the services of the on-call butler who came with his room, nor spend one single cent on extras such as mini-bar charges, telephone calls back home or late-night movies of the minimal dialogue kind, may have been another exploited tourist.
In which case, the embattled Prime Minister probably deserves a grovelling apology from those who should have looked after him properly instead of quibbling over the cost of the odd banquet put on his room and one or two nice towels that might have been borrowed. It is, after all, a bit rich to be accused of undue flamboyance and excess by the Italians. Silvio Berlusconi, Mr Howard’s political host, should have whipped out his credit card and settled the account in person. The sum in question is, it should be recorded, about 0.0008 per cent of the Italian Prime Minister’s estimated fortune. It would be the least he could do for a mate.”