By Sophie Levy, UNSW Coop Scholar
A group of six OECD delegates, two Y20 delegates, two Defence delegates and four Global Voices staff met in Canberra for a pre-departure briefing where we met with diplomats and politicians in order to gain different perspectives on global trade relations and Australia’s strategic place in the world and to prepare us for some discussion topics that we will likely encounter on our international delegations.
We began day one with a visit to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), where DFAT officers Christine Schafer, Benjamin Lavis and Daniel Millis provided an overview of the current architecture of international trade and relations.
Christine explored Australia’s current trade relations and values, discussing the changing nature of global trade and we examined potential impacts of recent global changes on Australia’s trade relations and foreign policies. Ben discussed his role in MIKTA, a multilateral trading group including Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia. This unique, non-regional partnership unites five diverse cultures and regions in order to discuss ways in which they can maintain stability and prosperity in areas of finance, economics, security, the environment and sustainable development. It was fascinating to learn about the benefits of bringing together these diverse countries and the similarities that these countries share in their objectives amidst a rapidly changing world.
We then raced over to the US Embassy where James Shea, the Unit Chief for Energy and Environment, gave us a valuable insight into the relationship between the US and Australia and their shared interests. We discussed the way in which the US and Australia interact to reach mutually beneficial goals for both countries and discussed some of the challenges that the US embassy faces in Australia.
For our final meeting of the day we had the privilege of meeting with members of the G20 team at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Dr. Gruen, Australia’s G20 Sherpa, provided us with an interesting and detailed overview of how this year’s G20 will possibly play out and gave us an insight into the issues that the G20 aims to address. We talked through the challenges of globalisation, free trade, technology, cyber security and more. Dr. Gruen even gave some advice to the Y20 delegates in their negotiation strategies and the way in which Australia positions itself in the G20 forum. We were all incredibly grateful for this opportunity, considering Dr. Gruen’s reputation as one of Australia’s most respected economists.
On day two, we woke up excited for the day ahead, anticipating the incredible insight into foreign policy that we were expecting to receive from diplomats and politicians throughout the day.
First stop: InnovationXchange (Ixc). Established by DFAT to support innovation across the Australian Aid Program, IxC collaborates with partners such as Google and Atlassian with the aim of encouraging fresh thinking to provide innovative solutions that are ‘cheaper, faster and more effective’.
We had the privilege of sitting down with Matthew Steine, Cassie Cohen (a Global Voices alumni) and a few other members of IxC. The group focused on the importance of collaboration, in particular with their partner organisations, in developing innovative and thoughtful solutions to global issues. It was particularly interesting to hear from Matthew, the current Innovation Director, who previously worked in the telecommunications industry and then went on to develop social enterprises in telecommunications. We all gained an insight into current foreign aid challenges, specifically within the Pacific region, and took away a lesson in new and exciting methods that governmental departments can achieve desired outcomes.
Our next stop was a visit to the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), where we shared in a roundtable discussion with a panel of eight experts with varied knowledge, from international relations to physics, to middle eastern studies and specialties in the Chinese market.
As a commerce student with little knowledge of defence strategy, this fascinating panel provided me with a new understanding of the complexity of defence and security and it has certainly sparked my interest in the effects of the current economic situation on our defence strategy. We discussed the impact of recent economic changes and the constantly evolving global environment, with a focus on the US, China and Russia. This conversation led us into many perspectives on Australia’s possible future global challenges. I found it particularly interesting to learn more about counter-terrorism strategies being used in Australia on a community level and gain an insight into IT security from a government perspective.
After a short walk through Canberra, we found ourselves at the beautiful Australian Parliament House. Surprised by the perfect layout of the premises and the extremely well kept exterior, I was excited for our tour with Harry Jenkins, AO, to begin.
Harry Jenkins, the Global Voices Chairperson and former Speaker of the house of Representatives, gave us an ‘insider’ tour of Parliament House, providing us access to areas of the building that were off limits to the general public. It was an honour to be guided by such a well-respected and well-liked politician who has an incredible knowledge of Australian politics, policies and the history of Australian Parliament House.
We were fortunate enough to have a brief meeting with Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the Opposition. We discussed the importance of women’s economic empowerment, specifically within the Pacific region. She focused on the role of women in promoting global economic growth and we discussed the importance of foreign aid in supporting women in developing countries.
A visit to Parliament House would be remiss without a pit stop at Question Time. Having never observed the Senate Question Time in real life, I was surprised to experience the ‘Question Time culture’ and found it extremely interesting to observe the ways in which the senators interacted and responded during this event. Attending Question Time two days after the 2017 budget release provided us with a unique experience as we heard different views of policies such as the bank levy, education and taxes.
Our meeting began with two of Senator Penny Wong’s advisers, Allan Behm and Nina Dynon, who commenced the discussion by asking – ‘Do you believe that the current world can cope with disruption?’ What a big question! We discussed global disruption and debated the true meaning of the phrase and went onto discuss the importance of Australian values – distinct from Australian interests – in establishing ourselves and ultimately in establishing our policies.
This conversation was then joined by the hon. Senator, Penny Wong, who discussed our foreign trade policies and added to our previous discussion on disruption and values. Senator Wong spoke movingly about her personal connection to Australia and how honesty and equity are crucial Australian values and assets in how we conduct ourselves as a nation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in a changing world.
Just as we were finishing up our day at parliament house, and we thought the day couldn’t get any better, Harry Jenkins spotted Julie Bishop, our Minister for Foreign Affairs. She paused her conversation and lunch with her colleagues to provide us with a few words of wisdom as we embark on our journey to the G20 or the OECD. It was an honour to meet her.
Travelling to Canberra as a Global Voices Delegate was a remarkable, inspiring and insightful experience! It was an absolute privilege to speak with so many respected, intelligent and high-level individuals who could share their varied perspectives on so many issues. If this is an indicator of the Global Voices experience, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us at the OECD Forum in Paris!