Faking it til you make it as a diplomat

By Alison Duncan

Having done diplomatic postings to Jakarta and Honiara, I’ll be honest and say that Wellington seemed like a pretty boring option.

But after meeting a handsome Kiwi in the Solomon Islands, it came to pass that, in 2015, I followed that well-trodden path of Aussies who move to NZ for love.

Fortunately, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade saw fit to give me a posting. Unfortunately, the only job at my level was an economic and trade one. An area in which I had, at that time, very little experience or interest.

But one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

So I set about trying to understand a bit of economics and trade. And it turned out that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s just my inner nerd coming to the fore, but I became fascinated by monetary policy, infrastructure, the housing market, alternative proteins and the future of pastoral agriculture, water issues… You name it, I’m into it.

And I’d like to say that it was just my own innate intelligence that allowed me to make lucid commentary on all these issues, but I’d be lying. It was thanks to the many economists, business people, government officials, MPs, educators and entrepreneurs in Wellington and beyond, who have been so generous with their time and knowledge. Whether it was explaining the intracacies of the RCEP agreement, giving me 101 on the mining sector, telling me more than I ever wanted to know about imputation credits and the mutual recognition thereof, or sharing their wisdom and insights on a thousand other issues.

I have really appreciated the time and support of everyone who has helped me during my time here.

The leadership of MFAT’s Australia Division in taking forward economic integration with Australia has been fantastic. It’s been great to work with the MFAT team, with the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, Export NZ, Chambers of Commerce and hundreds of SMEs around the country to identify challenges to doing business and collaborating across the Tasman, and take forward initiatives to address them.

It’s true that bureaucracies move slowly, but we are making progress on the Single Economic Market agenda, and I know that work being done in this space will help grow the economic pie for us all.

I’m also delighted at the momentum we’ve achieved in fostering collaboration between Australian and NZ Indigenous business. The Australian Indigenous business delegation that visited NZ earlier this year was such an incredibly positive experience. You can read about it here. And the enthusiasm and commitment it‘s generated will have benefits beyond the bottom lines of Indigenous companies. Australia has so much to learn from NZ on embracing Indigenous culture – and we have a few things to share as well – and I’m so pleased that our new High Commissioner is absolutely committed to taking this forward.

It’s also been fantastic to have the opportunity to establish a Women in Leadership Speaker Series at the High Commission. From our first big splash this time last year with then Deputy Opposition Leader Jacinda Ardern, to a couple of Governors General last month, it’s been such an honour to host so many fantastic speakers and to help inspire the next generation of NZ leaders.

I’ve really enjoyed this posting on a personal level as well.

We’ve done a huge amount of travel throughout this fair country. From Cape Reinga to Stewart Island, the East Cape to Denniston Plateau. We’ve ridden a steamboat on the Whanganui River and cruised Doubtful Sound. Laid wreaths on behalf of Australia on ANZAC Day and the anniversary of the Canterbury earthquakes. Paid our respects to Tane Mahuta and glimpsed the summit of Aoraki-Mt Cook. We’ve cycled the Central Otago Rail Trail and hiked the Tongariro Crossing. I’ve had the honour of being welcomed onto the Ngati Whatua Orakei marae in Auckland and my son Jack was invited to board Ngatokimatawhaorua – the ceremonial war canoe at the Waitangi Treaty grounds. I’ve even been to Fieldays. Twice.

Our son Jack was still a baby when we arrived in NZ in 2015 and I was proud to sign the paperwork to make him a NZ citizen. But, having learnt to talk in NZ, I am going to have to do some work on his vowels before it’s too late!

We’re heading back to Jakarta later this year for our next adventure but, in the meantime, I’m taking a bit of time off to recharge and enjoy the wonderful walks, museums and wine bars of Wellington. See you out there!


Alison has been Counsellor (Economic and Trade) at the High Commission since January 2015. Later this year, she will take up the position of Minister-Counsellor (Economic, Investment and Infrastructure) at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

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