By Arthur Spyrou, Australia’s Ambassador to United Arab Emirates
Recently, my colleagues from the Middle East and I, along with Heads of Mission from around the world, gathered in Canberra to discuss what direction Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper should take.
A White Paper may sound bureaucratic and complicated but getting it right can make a real difference to Australia’s security and prosperity. I expect the debate surrounding it will be contested, not least because international relations have never been more challenging.
There are more interests competing in the world for strategic advantage and economic success than at any time in history – states, non-government organisations, international organisations, non-state actors, large multinationals. Technological change is transforming the fabric of some societies and reshaping communities and networks across the globe, sometimes positively and sometimes not. Environmental challenges are now widespread.
Without international partnerships, representation at the tables where key decisions are made, good policy advice and fair warning about changes in the global environment, Australia would be at a distinct disadvantage. Identifying the opportunities and risks in a changing world to Australia – and the Australian community that we represent – is our core business.
So, in looking to shape our engagement beyond our borders, the White Paper will draw heavily on the views of the Australian community. The Global Heads of Mission Meeting in Canberra, and the broad consultations that have already taken place, will help us represent Australia’s many voices and interests around the world – regional Australian communities, businesses, travellers, and Aussies abroad. Visiting Heads of Mission also bring to the table ideas that we have seen implemented successfully by other countries and which could work for us – there’s no copyright for good ideas!
Australia has significant interests around the world, including in places that may not immediately be obvious, that contribute to our security and prosperity. As Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I am responsible for our largest trade and investment relationship in the Middle East region – it’s a significant relationship for two places that are quite different.
You may be surprised to know that there are 350 Australian companies located in the UAE and it’s home for almost 25,000 Australians. There are 133 direct flights a week each way and 350,000 or so Australians pass through each year. Relationships underpin all of our work as the relationships between countries come down to relationships between people.
Arthur Spyrou is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has served overseas previously as Counsellor in the Australian High Commission in Malaysia and had an earlier posting in France. In Canberra he has been Director of sections responsible for Management, Conduct and Corporate Strategy, bilateral relations with Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos and also for Australia’s engagement with the United Nations and Commonwealth.