JULIE BISHOP:  I acknowledge our friends here today - my colleague Minister Fierravanti-Wells, Dr Brendan Nelson, agency heads, secretaries, Excellencies from a number of the missions based here in Canberra - friends, all.

Frances said that it is not every day that you can get such a crowd at 8.30 in the morning - perhaps only in the nation’s capital. I was on FM radio this morning at 8am on Kyle and Jackie O, and they informed me that they are in treaty negotiations with Ireland to ensure that we swap preferences in the Eurovision song contest so that - according to Kyle and Jackie O - Jessica Mauboy wins the Eurovision song contest. I asked them how the negotiations were going. Given that Ireland has won seven times in the past, could they be sure that their negotiations were fair but that Australia was going to win? Well, their answer worried me somewhat, so I did suggest that Kyle Sandilands be an honorary member of our Diplomatic Academy, and so I have spent some time this morning informing Sydney FM radio about the Diplomatic Academy. So you never know where we are going to get our diplomats from now on.

It is a real pleasure to be here to officially launch the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Diplomatic Academy in the presence of the Advisory Board and our partners and clients.

As Frances also mentioned, last year we released the Foreign Policy White Paper. In that paper we reflected our values and interests. We are an open liberal democracy. We are committed to freedoms, the rule of law, democratic institutions. We are an open export-oriented market economy. We depend on our ability to sell our goods and services around the world for our standard of living, for our growing economy - now in its 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth.

The White Paper was designed to be a framework to set out our international engagement and our activities over the next decade or so. We can’t predict the future but we can certainly recognise the threats, the challenges and the opportunities.

We are in a world where there is a growing realignment of global powers, where there is a challenge to that international rules based order that has served the globe so successfully since 1945 – that network of alliances, and treaties, and conventions, and norms underpinned by international law – that is not only under strain, but in fact under challenge by some.

We are in a world where the rise of protectionism and nationalism in some quarters is of deep concern.

It is a world of enormous technological change. Technological advances are disrupting the way we live, work, connect and engage. The sheer scale and pace is daunting.

There are massive environmental challenges.

We are facing security challenges - some unprecedented in terms of terrorism, and we are seeing the proliferation of weapons once again. But with all these challenges there are also opportunities. Rising prosperity means that there are opportunities for us to find new markets to sell our high-quality goods and services.

What this all means is that in a highly competitive and complex world, Australian officials have to be highly skilled to negotiate the challenges and opportunities. They have to have specialised expertise. They have to have the ability to adapt, to be flexible and to be innovative. They have to be professional. I have often said that one of Australia’s greatest asset, in fact, our greatest natural asset, is our people. We need our people to be skilled, to be able to embrace change, and be able to operate internationally with skills that promote and protect our interests.

We have about 2,400 Australians working overseas as part of our diplomatic network across 23 Australian Government agencies in 117 embassies, high commissions, trade posts and consulates.

I was delighted that in Tuesday night’s Budget we were able to announce the opening of two more posts in Kolkata, our fourth in India - and in Tuvalu, our 14th post in the Pacific.

When I became Foreign Minister I was determined that Australia would expand our diplomatic footprint overseas and not take the rather shortsighted view that previous governments have taken, that if you need to balance the budget, you just close another overseas post. Very misguided in my view, so I was determined that we would increase our diplomatic footprint in line with Australia’s growing interests.

I am pleased that as of Tuesday night’s announcement we have expanded by 14 the number of diplomatic posts that we have - it is the largest expansion of our overseas network in over 40 years and I am determined to continue.

There was a very interesting article written in the New York Times in February by Nicholas Kralev. He’s the Executive Director of the Washington International Diplomatic Academy. The article speaks about the trade craft of diplomacy, and he lists all of the skills that are required when having to engage with other governments - having to understand their cultures, their languages, having to conduct very complex negotiations, representing your countries interests but getting outcomes that not only benefit you country, your region and the like. And he concluded that these skills that must be acquired, that diplomats are made, not born. No one is born with all the skills to conduct international diplomacy at the highest level, they need to be acquired.

That is why this Diplomatic Academy is so important. Our officials, our public servants must treat diplomacy as a profession, and as a profession, there must be ongoing training and professional development.

We join about 60 other countries who have a professional training academy, and I am confident that ours will be among the best available because of the commitment, the vision, the energy and dedication of those who are working within the Diplomatic Academy.

It was originally the brainchild of then Secretary Peter Varghese, a very experienced and well respected diplomat. Peter saw this as a key resource not only for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but for the entire Australian Public Service. Frances Adamson has taken on the vision that Peter had and we now have this Academy today.

I am also very keen for it to be a hub for former and current DFAT members to exchange ideas, to exchange experiences and to work together as a family, if you like, of diplomats supporting each other.

It is not the only innovation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in this building. When you came in this morning on the left-hand side you will have seen the doors to the innovationXchange. This was another idea we had - to build an innovation hub within the Department - not physically, it’s over the road from the Department - but a laboratory of ideas, challenging the status quo, challenging our thinking. Can we deliver our aid budget more effectively, more efficiently, more creatively and more innovatively? What can we do as a Department that can be more flexible, and adaptive, and innovative? Our innnovationXchange is groundbreaking for the Australian Public Service, and it is so highly regarded by other departments around the world who actually come here to see what we are doing in our innovationXchange.

I want the Diplomatic Academy to be likewise, as highly regarded.

Not only are we working with other members of the Australian Public Service and our own DFAT staff, but we are also offering opportunities for other foreign ministries, and I’m delighted to know that we have exchanges in place so that young diplomats, in particular from partner countries, can spend time in our Diplomatic Academy, and young Australian diplomats can likewise spend time in Foreign Ministry’s Academies.

There is a group called MIKTA – a group of G20 countries: Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia, MIKTA - and we have already ensured that young diplomats from these countries are spending time in our Diplomatic Academy and vice-versa.

This truly is an opportunity for our diplomats to operate at the very highest level. I am already immensely proud of the work that our diplomatic corps does overseas. I know that all of our agencies involved in international activities send delegations overseas to be involved in some very complex negotiations or activities, and we want them to be as well prepared as they can be to operate at the highest level internationally.

This will ensure that our diplomatic corps continues to be one of the finest, and continues to represent Australia’s interests, and promotes our values overseas at the very highest level.

Congratulations to all those involved. We now have a purpose built facility with a nine faculty curriculum providing a service to ensure that the Australian Public Service remains one of the world’s finest.

It is with great pleasure that I am here this morning to launch the Diplomatic Academy.


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