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

Media Release

18 June 2007

Diplomatic Appointment: Ambassador to Laos

Dr Michele Forster is to be Australia’s new Ambassador to Laos.  Dr Forster will replace Alistair McLean, who has been Ambassador since September 2004, and is expected to take up her appointment in September 2007.

Australia and Laos have more than 50 years of unbroken diplomatic ties. Australia enjoys a strong reputation in Laos as a constructive long-term partner in the Mekong region with expertise directly relevant to Laos' development needs.  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. 

Australia is one of Laos’ top foreign investors.  An agreement on the promotion and protection of investment between Australia and Laos has been in place since 1995.  Mining is the key sector of Australian economic engagement in Laos, and Australian firms have also made significant investments in other sectors including telecommunications, construction, energy and education. 

Since 2005, Australia has been Laos’ official partner in its efforts to accede to the World Trade Organization.  Australia and Laos are also partners in negotiations for a free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The inaugural Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue occurred in Laos in October 2006.  Australia also cooperates with Laos on transnational issues such as avian influenza, counter-terrorism, people smuggling and trafficking in persons.

Australia manages a highly regarded development assistance program in Laos which focuses on access to education, supporting the development of a market economy, and reducing the vulnerability of poorer communities to natural disasters and unexploded ordinance. Australia has committed over $27 million in total development assistance to Laos in 2007-08 .

In Canberra, Dr Forster has held a range of positions including Director Fiji Task Force, Director Pacific Regional Section, Director of AUSMIN05 and Deputy Director, Staffing Operations Section.  She is currently Director, Consular Policy & Training Section, a position she has held since February 2007. 

Overseas, Dr Forster has served as Deputy Head of Mission in Dhaka and as Second Secretary in Brunei.  Dr Forster also served with the Commonwealth Secretariat in London from 1997 to 2000.

Dr Forster holds a BA (Hons) and PhD from Monash University.  She also holds a Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade from ANU.  She is married with two children.

Media Inquiries: Mr Downer's office 02 6277 7500 - Departmental Media Liaison 02 6261 1555

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