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

Media Release

16 November 2007

Dr Ashton Calvert AC

I was immensely saddened by the news this morning of the death of Dr Ashton Calvert AC, one of Australia’s finest and most dedicated diplomats and public servants. Ashton retired three years ago as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a position he held for over six years, bringing to a close a distinguished career in diplomacy and government service.

We worked closely together for many years on issues of the utmost importance to Australia’s security, prosperity and international standing. During this time I never failed to be impressed by Ashton’s abilities. He had a remarkable sense of Australia’s interests and an extraordinary energy in pursuing them for the benefit of all Australians. He did so with an acute intelligence, an admirable sense of perspective and, at times, disarming humour. He was frank and fearless in the best tradition of Australia’s distinguished public service.

Ashton was a Rhodes Scholar who joined the Department of External Affairs in 1970 after graduating from Oxford University with a doctorate in mathematics. He was first posted to Japan in 1971, where he developed exceptional skill as a Japanese linguist. He was posted to Japan on three subsequent occasions, finally as Ambassador from 1993 until 1998. His contribution to Australia-Japan relations was immeasurable. Ashton also served in Washington from 1979 to 1983.

Ashton Calvert was the quintessential public servant. While immensely proud of DFAT, he worked with dedication in other areas of government, including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Office of National Assessments and the then Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. He served governments of both persuasions at the most senior levels, having been Paul Keating’s senior international adviser from 1991 to 1993. 

Ashton Calvert’s leadership of DFAT at a time of immense change and challenge in the international environment was his crowning achievement. Through his personal example and the standards he set, Ashton upheld clarity of focus and the highest standards of governance in the work of the department, while simultaneously delivering strong policy outcomes for Australia across a broad range of foreign policy and trade issues. 

Ashton was a man of impeccable judgment, precision and vision. The Australian public have been fortunate to have had a man of such skill and integrity play such an influential role in advancing their interests internationally. 

My thoughts and prayers are with Ashton’s wife Mikie and their children Felicity and Timothy, and with Ashton’s father, Bob Calvert. 

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

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