By Nicola Rosenblum, Australia’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam
Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Bendigo, Victoria, I reflected on how much had changed in the almost 20 years since I’d left Bendigo. It had Mexican restaurants for a start. But there was also fantastic dynamism. With huge smiles, the business people I met shared exciting plans for attracting inward investment and driving local exports into new markets. I had come to talk about the importance of expanding trade with South East Asia but they were ahead of me and had so much to share. Talk of smarter cities, of infrastructure hubs and working across networks to leverage greater opportunities left me contemplating new possibilities for connecting communities in Asia and Australia.
Back at my old stomping ground of Bendigo Senior Secondary College I gave a talk on the value of Australia’s aid program (also at Latrobe University). Students and staff who came asked tricky questions and showed a keen interest in Australia’s place in the world. They wanted to tackle difficult issues like racism, poverty and tensions in the South China Sea. I was suddenly very glad that Secretary Frances Adamson had driven me, and my fellow heads of mission, into regional Australia to engage communities like those in Bendigo.
We’d all been gathered in Canberra for the Global Heads of Mission Meeting to consider the weighty challenge of setting Australia’s foreign policy direction at a time of global disruption. No mean feat. We debated back and forth how to overcome protectionist trade winds, influence populist governments and preserve the rules-based order in our region. We talked about how to improve opportunities for Australian businesses overseas and promote Australia as a premier destination for tourism and investment. We canvassed ways to streamline Australia’s overseas operations and better leverage the networks of other agencies and State Governments.
While in Canberra, I participated in a panel on women in leadership, confronting some of the myths and realities of women Ambassadors and High Commissioners. I’d spoken about my early fears of not being up to the role, the challenges of balancing a top job and a young family, and how immensely rewarding I find being a High Commissioner. Hopefully the panel encouraged other young women to apply for these crucial jobs.
When I return to Brunei, I will take back with me a greater understanding of the complex challenges we face in our region and beyond and a renewed sense of purpose. I am excited that regional Australia is as outwardly facing as my department and I am keen to support them to achieve better outcomes for Australians.
Nicola Rosenblum is Australia’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam. She joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2003 and has had previous postings to Vienna and Islamabad. Her last role in Canberra was Director for Humanitarian Operations. Follow her on Instagram: @duta.oz.bn