Australian High Commission
New Zealand

High Commissioner: Pacific Diplomatic Training Programme, 22 April 2024

Pacific Diplomatic Training Programme 

Remarks by H E Ms Harinder Sidhu AM, Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand

Australian High Commission, Wellington – 22 April 2024



E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi, e rau rangatira mā

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko au te māngai o te whenua moemoeā

Ko Harinder Sidhu toku ingoa.

Nau mai haere mai, Ni sa bula Vinaka (Fiji), Welkam (Tok Pisin), Halo (Bislama) – a very warm welcome to the Australian High Commission. 

My name is Harinder Sidhu, and I’m the Australian High Commissioner.

It’s a genuine pleasure to host colleagues from the Pacific diplomatic community and to meet the next generation of foreign policy practitioners.

Thanks to Rosemary Banks and the Victoria University team for inviting us again to be a small part of your training program here in Wellington.

I’ve been asked to speak about the role of a High Commission and of a diplomat – which I’m very happy to do.  If ok with you all, I’ll also say a few words about how we are engaging with the Pacific.


The role of a High Commission and diplomat

Firstly, let me congratulate you all on your choice of career! A career in diplomacy is tremendously rewarding and stimulating.

It is a great honour to represent your country and to play a role in advancing your nation’s interests abroad– be that in trade, security, human rights, climate change, social and cultural issues or any number of fields.

You will probably find many people don’t really understand what a diplomat does and why it matters.  Very often people don’t look beyond the cutting of ribbons and cocktail events when they think about diplomats.

But rather than talk in the abstract though, I thought it might be most interesting to share a few reflections from my own experience.

Let’s start with my role.  As High Commissioner, I am the highest representative of the Australian Government in the country, in this case NZ. I am also the steward of the relationship with New Zealand.

So there are a few things that flow from that:

  1. I build understanding – which is the glue of the relationship. I keep the Australian government (and also business etc) informed of what is going on in NZ and what I think it means.  That means, writing lots of reports and the like.

As well as advising my own government, I also spend a fair bit of time explaining to New Zealanders what is going on in Australia and what it means.  I do that through written reports, conversations, meetings, speeches, social media – you name it.

         2. I also advocate for Australia’s interests – in other words, I put Australia’s point of view to New Zealand on issues that matter to or affect us.

In this relationship, it isn’t as combative as it sounds – for the most part, Australia’s interests here lie in making sure that we work well and closely with New Zealand in just about any field you might think of.  So I try to bring us closer together in our outlook and way of working.  For Australia and New Zealand – that is all about our partnership as Pacific countries.

        3. I work to keep us connected.  That is just basic relationship building – you can’t have a relationship with someone you don’t know. So my team and I work to find ways to connect our businesses together, to encourage visits in both directions, and to build links between the two governments.


         4. I represent Australia – in many cases, it is important just to be there.  For example, Anzac Day is coming up and I will play mostly a representative role there, laying wreaths and representing Australia.  This is important because it is one of those occasions where it would be noticed if Australia was not present.


         5. I take care of Australians in New Zealand – this goes to the consular function of the High Commission.  If Australian citizens are in trouble or need access to support/Australian government, passports, voting etc - then the High Commission and our Consulate in Auckland will do that


          6. And if all that isn’t enough, I am also responsible for managing the work of the mission – managing staff, finances, property – the works.


Diplomatic Tradecraft

That’s the what of the job. 

Perhaps what is more interesting is to consider how and why

The how of the job goes, fundamentally, to what we broadly call diplomatic tradecraft

The most important thing is to build understanding.  I arrive in every posting as a student of the country.  Until and unless I can understand that country from the inside, I will never be a good adviser to my government.

So this is where you realise that diplomacy is ultimately a people business.

First and last, the people you know will make all the difference in how well you can do your job.  They can advise you, help you find answers or the right connections when you need them, explain how the country you are in actually works.

It should be your highest priority to (a) work out who you need to know and (b) get to know them.  This does not just mean meeting them at meetings, but also getting to know them as people, personally.  This is something that I find that Pacific diplomats are particularly good at.  Being warm and sociable is a big asset.

But laying over that is understanding and working within the culture of the country you are in. Perhaps the language is different.  Conventions of social behaviour are different – eg in India, not acceptable for a woman to socialise alone with a man.  So I became friends with the wives of Ministers and business leaders!

For me, the mark of my success in every posting is how wide and far I could extend my networks.  I do not treat people as mere contacts.  I try to make friends and to get to know people at a personal level.  I’m lucky because I am interested in people and I like them. If you are a more private person, you can also be successful, but it will be done differently.

The second thing that’s hard to learn is issues around protocols.  This is the ‘language’ of diplomacy.

So there are forms of engagement and address, which will seem very formal, but which all diplomats understand. This also goes for receptions and dinner parties – which aren’t really parties but opportunities to meet up with people and discuss matters of interest.  It’s all work!

And then, it is about the nuts and bolts of it – comes down to communication. Advocating, negotiating, explaining – finding the right words that will make a difference and influence people in the right direction.  Patience, perseverance – all these things are needed to get the outcome you are after.

And finally, you can’t ever lose sight of why you are doing your job.  At all times, you are taking forward your country’s interests. This can be in big ways – say, negotiating bilateral treaties or preparing for a PM visit – or in smaller ones, for example, taking care of a citizen who is imprisoned.  It all matters.

If you cannot define a purpose for why you are doing a particular thing, then you either shouldn’t do it or are going about it the wrong way.

And, as time goes on, it helps to have a goal to work toward.  What am I trying to achieve? How can I make a real, positive difference, to the state of the relationship?


Australia and the Pacific

So let me use the example of how Australia is working with the Pacific to illustrate some of this.

Going back to what I said about the basis of foreign policy being about understanding and building connections between people, this is just how we approach our diplomacy in the Pacific.

Australia’s foreign policy is shaped around a primary objective to help shape an Indo-Pacific region that is peaceful, safe and prosperous.

Although Australia and the many nations of the Pacific may be different in many ways, we share a common purpose. We share an ocean and a future.

So how do we build a sense of solidarity with this group of nations and people who are, in the end, so very important to Australia?

We work on connecting face-to-face, so we can build understanding.

In addition to the countries represented here today, you may know that Australia now has diplomatic missions in every Pacific Islands Forum member country – a total of 19, including two here in New Zealand.

Our Pacific posts work very closely on the ground with local governments, civil society and business. We rely on the experience and insights of our excellent Pacific staff at all of our missions in the region.

Even here in Wellington, we have outstanding Pacific staff. Tina Sosefo, originally from Suva, is our vastly experienced consular lead. She is the officer responsible for helping Australians in New Zealand who may need our help.

We are also making sure that our Ministers and officials travel regularly to meet and get to know our counterparts at a person to person level.  In the first 12 months of the government, Foreign Minister Penny Wong paid a visit to every Pacific Island Country, and to some (eg Fiji) more than once.

We engage with respect and openness.  This means rather than telling you what we think you should do, we respect you as sovereign nations in your own right.  We listen and try to build a relationship based on the things that matter to you, not just things that matter to Australia.

When we listen, we hear that climate change and economic development are your two most pressing concerns.

So, as the largest development partner in the Pacific, Australia is investing in inclusive economic growth, sustainable infrastructure, jobs, skills, and connectivity – to ensure prosperity for communities and for future generations.

And we realise that we also have to be credible.  It’s no use preaching about climate change if your own credentials don’t stack up.  So we are taking strong action at home.

Within this decade, 82% of Australia’s electricity generation will be renewable – a huge transformation.

At the same time, Australia is supporting the region’s transition to renewable energy, helping countries build climate resilience and access our increased climate finance contributions, and sharing our innovations in climate adaptation.

Equally, we all have a huge stake in keeping the Pacific peaceful and stable. That peace and stability is under challenge.

As a founding member of the Forum, Australia believes in Pacific sovereignty – and solidarity.

We recognise that none of us can achieve the future we want alone.

So we need to rely on each other, to each play our part in a shared Pacific that is peaceful, safe and prosperous. This reflects the reality that we are stronger together.

Right now, we are joining observers, police and defence personnel from Fiji, PNG and New Zealand to provide security support to Solomon Islands for their elections, building on the regional legacy of RAMSI. 

At the heart of our relationship with the Pacific is of course the deep connections between our people and our communities. This is true of the Australia-New Zealand relationship, just as it is of Australia’s relationships with each of our Pacific neighbours.

We have heard the calls from Pacific leaders for even deeper connections and easier movement around the region. And so the Australian Government is taking steps to improve access, mobility, and migration opportunities between our Pacific neighbours and Australia.

The Pacific Engagement Visa is one such example – this will be a big step forward for us, opening up 3000 permanent residence places in Australia to be awarded to participating Pacific countries by way of ballot.

Perhaps more significantly, the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union embodies our approach to respectful and reciprocal partnerships. 

We are also building on decades of defence and law enforcement cooperation and interoperability. Led by Pacific security priorities, we are working together and investing in building peace in our region.

Thank you so much for your time and attention.

I look forward to our discussion.

Thank you.