Representing Australia: Issues and Tasks: Allan Hawke Comments on the Approach of the Australian High Commission to Some of the Key Issues in Australian-New Zealand Relations

By Hawke, Allan | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Representing Australia: Issues and Tasks: Allan Hawke Comments on the Approach of the Australian High Commission to Some of the Key Issues in Australian-New Zealand Relations


Hawke, Allan, New Zealand International Review


The High Commission's role is to articulate and pursue Australia's economic, trade and security interests. High quality reporting and analysis of major domestic, foreign and trade policy issues is a vital task. The critical requirement is to identify the real altitude of the New Zealand government, as distinct from its public rhetoric about a situation, and to determine its real intentions as distinct from what it says it will do. New Zealand's approach to and views on issues relating to the United States, APEC and its constituents, ASEAN, CHOGM, the United Nations and the European Union are all of major interest to Australia, as are New Zealand's defence decisions.

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My role as Australian High Commissioner in New Zealand is to ensure that Australia's economic, trade and security interests--what is in our national interest--and the rationale underpinning them are clearly articulated and effectively pursued.

In that context, one of our most important tasks is to provide high quality reporting and analysis of major domestic, foreign and trade policy issues, particularly any aspects that might impact on the bilateral relationship or have consequences for us. Distilling the essence of matters affecting Australia's interests and conveying them in a concise and effective way that commands attention among our diverse audience in Canberra is not as easy as it sounds, but that is the nature of the game in this age of instantaneous communication. As well as meeting the desirable three-page limitation for memoranda, we must ensure the information adds value over what is available in the media or on the Internet and goes to those who need it and not to those who do not.

As others have observed, the 'CNN age' enhances the need to have well qualified, culturally sensitive people in key representational positions overseas. 'The critical issue for diplomats in the field is to identify the real attitude of a foreign government, as distinct from its public rhetoric about a situation, and its real intentions as distinct from what it says it intends to do'. (1) Reading the history is one thing, but it is only through living there that you can appreciate and get insights into the customs, ethos, attitude and identity that shape the host nation and its approach to the world.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's culture of having one's name on the bottom of a cable as the author, enhancing visibility and reputation, needs to be measured against other points of view that might bear on the subject matter. A considered, co-ordinated and consultative approach, which reflects an agreed mission assessment, is the requirement. That is not to say or imply that I should rewrite or clear every report, but as High Commissioner I must take responsibility for all aspects of the mission's work. Some of the tyrants of bygone eras would be found wanting against today's emotional quotient test.

Advocacy outcomes

You do, of course, need to keep in touch with the agenda and what is happening in Australia (especially in Canberra) through the daily on-line newspaper clips, the cable traffic and informal personal contacts with people in the loop. Activity can sometimes become an end in its own right, but it does not advance the cause very much. I want the mission's policy staff to think more about the advocacy outcomes that we are seeking as the driver of their priorities. This informs people how they can use their time better, and match the work with the resources available--in other words, balancing the work/life equation. Work expands to fill the time available, so a disciplined approach to personal efficiency can role-model the way for others. Achievement is not measured by the amount of time you spend at your desk.

Consistent with this score, we are implementing a series of initiatives as part of a 'Working Smarter' campaign. Chapter 6 of Peter Drucker's Management Challenges for the 21st Century should be compulsory reading for modern day workers and those with supervisory/management responsibilities.

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Representing Australia: Issues and Tasks: Allan Hawke Comments on the Approach of the Australian High Commission to Some of the Key Issues in Australian-New Zealand Relations
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