Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has today announced that Mr Neil Hawkins will be Australia’s next Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with non-resident accreditation to the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman.
Mr Hawkins is expected to take up his appointment later this month. He will replace Kevin Magee who has been Ambassador since February 2008.
Australia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have a strong and longstanding relationship, with shared interests in regional security and combating terrorism.
The bilateral relationship is underpinned by strong trade and investment ties. Saudi Arabia is one of Australia's major markets in the Middle East with two-way trade totalling more than $2 billion in 2010, and around 9,400 Saudi students are enrolled in Australian universities and colleges.
The Australian Embassy in Riyadh also plays a key role in engaging the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and its Secretariat based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Australia also enjoys constructive engagement with Bahrain and Oman.
Australia engages with Oman as a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, and engages with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman as members of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), on broader regional and international issues.
The first GCC-Australia Foreign Ministers Strategic Dialogue forum was also held on the 8 March 2011. The Dialogue aims to expand peace, security and development cooperation between Australia and Gulf countries.
Australia looks forward to early recommencement of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with the GCC. A comprehensive FTA will enhance economic relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC states.
Mr Hawkins is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and until recently was Assistant Secretary, Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe Branch, a position he has held since 2010. Prior to joining DFAT in 2008, Mr Hawkins worked with the Office of National Assessments (2004-08) and AusAID (2002-04). He has also served with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (1994-96) and with CARE Australia in Cambodia and Burma (1998-2001).
Mr Hawkins holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom and a Master of International Business from Murdoch University in Western Australia. He speaks Arabic.
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