Swapping Queensland’s beaches for Austria’s snow

Emily 10  By Emily Pugin

In 2013, as a young Indigenous beach-loving Queenslander, the thought of moving to land-locked Canberra for the (then) AusAID graduate program was at first daunting. At the time, I never could have anticipated the unique opportunities the move would present and that 7 months down the track I would be working in an integrated department with Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have unexpectedly enjoyed living in Canberra, where I have swapped the surf for snow, and runs around Surfers Paradise to runs around Lake Burley Griffin.

Looking back over the past five years, my time in DFAT has been diverse, challenging and deeply rewarding. I have had the opportunity to advance Australia’s development, foreign policy and trade priorities and strengthen Australia’s relationships across the globe.

My graduate rotations across the department varied and included advancing Australia’s humanitarian policies and partnerships, monitoring development projects in the Indo-Pacific and preparing legal advice for Free Trade Agreement negotiations. After completing the graduate program, I wanted to work in an area that combined my interests in multilateralism and my passion for the environment and sustainability – the climate change branch seemed like a natural fit!

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Emily tearing up the slopes at Thredbo

It is timely this blog coincides with NAIDOC Week. We have a number of policies in place to protect and promote the interests indigenous peoples. This includes a five-year Indigenous Peoples Strategy to align the department’s work on issues affecting indigenous peoples across the foreign policy, aid, trade and corporate objectives. Having the opportunity to translate these policies into real and meaningful action in the climate space has been a personal highlight.

A highlight of my career was representing Australia at the 21st Conference of the Parties in France, where 192 countries came together to negotiate the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. The negotiations were overwhelming at first, the hours were long and the coffee was awful – not a great combination! However, it was an incredibly memorable experience to be surrounded by countless heads of states and to witness first-hand the culmination of many years of hard work.

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Australian delegation, 21st Conference of the Parties, Paris 2015

During negotiations, we strongly advocated with other Parties to include indigenous peoples in the agreement. Subsequently, the Paris Agreement outcome includes an explicit reference to indigenous peoples recognising the need to strengthen knowledge and efforts of indigenous peoples related to responding to climate change.

Of course, the hard work does not stop at putting pen to paper; we are now working with Parties to implement the Paris Agreement and drive change at the country level. I recently attended intersessional negotiations in Germany, where we worked with Parties and Indigenous groups to find ways to strengthen participation of indigenous peoples and incorporate best practice in the global response to climate change.

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Emily Pugin at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York with Mike Fordham, Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Photo credit: Penny Morton, DFAT

It has been a privilege to represent Australia internationally, from working on community-based adaptation projects in Cabo Verde and Oecusse, to negotiating multilateral climate agreements in Marrakesh. Witnessing first-hand the positive influences Australian aid and multilateral agreements makes to the lives of the most vulnerable communities across the globe has been truly rewarding.

My next challenge is a posting to Vienna, where I will be able to continue representing Australia in the multilateral arena. That beach-loving Queenslander has come a long way!

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From left Dheny Raw, Emily Pugin, Dougal McInnes. 21st Conference of the Parties, Paris 2015

Emily Pugin is a descendant of the Kombumerri people of the Gold Coast. She graduated from Bond University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Laws and International Relations. Prior to joining DFAT she was an intern at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. She also has professional legal experience having clerked at MBA Lawyers and Allens Arthur Robinson Lawyers in the area of environment law.

Since joining DFAT as a graduate in 2013, Emily has worked in the Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships Section, the Office of Development Effectiveness, the Pacific Division, and the Office of Trade Negotiations. Emily is currently working as a Policy Officer in the Mechanisms and Adaptation Section of the Sustainability and Climate Change Branch in the Investment and Economic Division.


3 thoughts on “Swapping Queensland’s beaches for Austria’s snow

  1. Elisabeth Perrin

    Hi Emily,
    Thank you for your blog which is so inspiring for an aspiring applicant of the next DFAT Graduate Program like me! Your journey at DFAT so far is wonderful, and best wishes for your posting to Vienna.
    Do you recommend having specific area(s) of interests that you can profile and contribute to when aspiring for a career in DFAT? Or it is important to demonstrate broad knowledge and interests across the many and varied areas of DFAT? I would think a combination of both?
    Thanks so much for your advice.

    1. Hi Elisabeth,
      Thanks for your comment and well wishes. It’s great to hear you’re interested in the DFAT grad program, I would highly recommend it. From my experience, it’s important to know what your interests are and what areas of the department you could see yourself working in. However, it’s equally important to be flexible and adaptable to apply your skills to a broad range of areas. The Foreign Affairs and Trade Grad Program Facebook page has some further information about graduate experiences. I hope this helps.
      Kind regards,

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