The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

Media Release

FA87 - 21 June 2004

Diplomatic Appointment: Ambassador to Laos

I have today announced the appointment of Alistair Charles Maclean as Australia's Ambassador to Laos. Mr Maclean will replace Jonathan Thwaites who has been Ambassador since November 2000 and is expected to take up his appointment in September 2004.

Australia enjoys a strong reputation in Laos as a long-term partner actively engaged in the Mekong region and with expertise directly relevant to Laos' development needs. Australia's bilateral relationship with Laos has been built over more than 50 years of unbroken diplomatic ties and supplemented by a high-profile program of bilateral aid. The Australian-built and funded "Friendship Bridge" linking Laos and Thailand remains a strong symbol of the ongoing Australian commitment to Laos and the region. Laos became a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations in 1997 and succeeds to the Chairmanship for 2004-2005, hosting the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane at the end of November this year.

Laos' expressed interest in foreign investment has led a number of Australian firms to pursue opportunities, notably in the mining, telecommunications, construction, energy and education sectors. An agreement on the promotion and protection of investment between Australia and Laos has been in place since 1995. According to Lao Government statistics, Australia is the fourth largest foreign investor in Laos with 47 projects valued at US$543 million. Australia also manages a highly regarded development cooperation program in Laos which will now focus on access to education, property rights in the transition to a market economy and reducing the vulnerability of poorer communities to natural disasters. Total Australian aid flows to Laos amount to around A$20 million per year.

Mr Maclean is a senior career diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is currently Assistant Secretary, Papua New Guinea & New Zealand Branch. Mr Maclean was a lead negotiator for the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, and was the Department's speechwriter from 2001 to 2003. Mr Maclean previously served as an Adviser in the International Division of the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet in 1996 and 1997.

Overseas, Mr Maclean most recently served as a Counsellor (Commercial) in Washington from 1997 to 2001. His previous posting was in Bangkok, from 1990 to 1994. In 1995 he undertook a six month exchange with the Hong Kong Trade Department.

Born in Melbourne in 1964, Mr Maclean holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in political science from Melbourne University, and a Master of International Law degree from the Australian National University. Mr Maclean speaks Thai and is married with two children.

Media inquiries: Chris Kenny (Ministerial) 02 6277 7500 - Julie McDonald (Departmental) 02 6261 1555

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