By Richard Mathews, Australian Consul-General in Makassar, Indonesia
In a few days, I will be joining over 100 of Australia’s Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls-General in Canberra for DFAT’s Global Heads of Mission Meeting (GHOMM). Alex Oliver, in a recent SMH article, brought a smile to my face when she described this as a meeting of “the country’s best diplomatic minds”.
DFAT cannot claim to have a monopoly on the best diplomatic minds. Across the country, in our universities and think tanks, and elsewhere, many people think deeply about Australia’s place in the world. However, through GHOMM, my fellow Ambassadors and I have been tasked to think about how to best position our country in an increasingly uncertain and fractious world.
I am Consul-General in one of our newest overseas posts, Makassar in South Sulawesi, eastern Indonesia. It is a great job and I enjoy promoting Australia, talking about our country and its people, and working to improve ties and mutual understanding with our great and populous neighbour. I have a superb team to help me do this. But I also enjoy learning something new every day about this amazing part of the world, just to Australia’s north.
Last year I gave a lecture to students of international relations at the local state university, Universitas Hasanuddin. During Q&A, a young woman asked me to define diplomacy in three words. Almost instinctively, I blurted out “practical relationship building”.
This is what diplomats do. There are many other things too, such as managing aid programs and budgets, advising ministers and organising high level visits, helping Australians overseas, negotiating treaties and trade deals.
But at its core, diplomacy is about relationships. Meeting people face-to-face and developing relationships that enable us to advance Australia’s interests. You cannot do it by Skype or email.
Our Ambassadors know their host countries: they are our on-the-ground experts. They have a sharp and clear vision of how the Australian government’s opinions, views and policies will be received or perceived by their host governments. Ambassadors are at the front line of diplomacy and are all experienced relationship-builders.
I expect that the contribution of Australia’s Ambassadors will enable the Government to develop a more focused and practical White Paper, one that will chart a safe and prosperous way forward for Australia.
Richard Mathews is Australia’s Consul-General in Makassar, Indonesia. He is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was most recently the Director of the Nuclear Policy Section. He has previously served overseas as Deputy Representative, Australian Commerce and Industry Office, Taipei; Deputy Head of Mission in Athens; and as Second Secretary in Bandar Seri Begawan. In Canberra, Mr Mathews has worked in the India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Europe sections.