Jan — policy graduate with economics qualifications
Counsellor (Congressional Liaison), Australian Embassy to the United States, Washington DC.
Other key placements including overseas assignments
Brussels (2002-2005), Bougainville (Peace Monitoring Mission) (1999).
What qualifications do you have?
Bachelor of Economics (University of Tasmania), Masters of International Relations (Monash University).
What were you doing before you joined DFAT?
Prior to joining DFAT I worked for five years at the Tasmanian Department of Treasury and Finance. I was recruited under its cadetship program, which entailed full-time work in the Department with part-time university study. I held a range of positions throughout the Department, including in the economic strategy division and the budget division. In my last year with the Department, I was the budget officer for the Department of Community and Health Services, whose budget represented over half of the total state budget.
Why did you apply to DFAT?
I realised I wanted to work for DFAT whilst listening to a representative from the International Red Cross address my grade 12 legal studies class. It was like someone flicked on a light switch as up to that point I had no idea what I wanted to do 'when I grow up'. International affairs always interested me but, growing up in a small country town, I had little exposure to global developments and little appreciation of Australia's foreign policy interests. I took the cadetship at the Tasmanian Treasury with the aim of completing my economics degree and applying to join DFAT's graduate program. I was repeatedly told (almost warned) how competitive it was to join DFAT but I hoped that by getting a degree in a different discipline (i.e. not an international relations-focused degree) and combining it with government work experience I would be able to make-up for the severe shortfall in my ability to speak a multitude of languages and the under-utilised state of my passport. I was lucky.
How have you used your economic training during your time at DFAT?
My economic training has, time and again, proven valuable to me during my career in DFAT. It has also been recognised and valued by the Department. My first rotation on the graduate program was in the Department's International Economics and Finance Division (IEF). This rotation coincided with the East Asian Economic Crisis, and it was IEF that led the Department's response. I produced a weekly update for the Secretary on the state of the crisis and implications for Australian interests; got involved in export finance issues created by the crisis; and organised and participated in a conference in Malaysia for Embassy officials posted in our East Asian embassies and responsible for reporting on the economic crisis.
A couple of months after joining the Department as a graduate, I took a specialist APS5 economics position. This provided me with a two-year opportunity to focus my economics experience and training in advancing the Department's interests.
Having a good understanding about macroeconomic issues and microeconomic reforms held me in good stead whilst on posting to Australia's Mission to the European Union in Brussels from 2002-2005. My areas of responsibility included the European Parliament, which regularly entailed analysing legislation that had the potential to affect Australia's national interest. My economics background positioned me well to be appointed the person responsible for reporting on the EU's economic performance and prospects.
When I returned to Australia from Brussels, I was appointed the Director of the Papua New Guinea Political Section. Although generally regarded as a 'foreign policy' position, my economics background facilitated my understanding of important issues in the bilateral relationship at that time including Australia's Enhanced Cooperation Program, a fundamental pillar of which focused on facilitating economic development in PNG, and the Australia-PNG gas pipeline, a commercial project under consideration at that time.
My economics experience again proved useful in my next position in our Free Trade Agreements taskforce, where I participated in FTA negotiations with China, Japan and Korea.
What has been the highlight of your career so far with DFAT?
I have had many wonderful experiences in my twelve years with the Department, many of which I would not have been able to obtain in the private sector.
For example, my participation as a civilian monitor in Australia's Peace Monitoring Mission in Bougainville in 1999 gave me an opportunity to work as a member of a multinational team to advance the peace process in that war-torn province of PNG. I was part of a six-person team that patrolled Monday-Friday in the jungles of Bougainville, advancing the peace process by holding village meetings, engaging village chiefs and other elders; and assisting with the disarmament process. A helicopter would drop my team into our 'Area of Operation' on Monday morning. We would then hike from village to village with our packs that carried our information materials, food, water and other supplies for the week — often up to seven hours a day. A helicopter would return us to base camp on Friday afternoon and we would spend the weekend writing our reports before heading back out again on Monday morning. It was an amazing experience and one that regularly reminds me of the unique opportunities afforded a career in DFAT.
Other highlights include my posting to Brussels and now the United States. I had a year's French language training before commencing in Brussels, which concluded with a month's in-country language training in Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. Working with the EU was an enormously interesting and challenging experience and one that I never tired of in my three years there. On a personal level, the travel opportunities whilst living in Brussels were endless — we were never quite sure whether to head north, south, east or west on our weekends!
I think of my current job, as the head of the Congressional Liaison Office in our Embassy in Washington as 'my best job ever' and wonder what could ever top it — a thought, however, that I have had many times before during my time at DFAT. My current responsibilities include coordinating and managing the Embassy's engagement with the United States Congress. This entails working with all of the government agencies represented in the Embassy on advocating specific policy issues on the Hill and also working very closely with Ambassador Beazley in facilitating his engagement with Members of Congress. The other aspect of my job entails following US politics, including Presidential elections — I regularly marvel at the fact that I get paid to do this!
As an economist, why would you recommend DFAT as a career?
I would highly recommend DFAT as a career for an economist. For me, my interest in economics was focused more on broader policy perspectives rather than in pure economic and statistical analysis. I wanted to combine my interest in economics with my love of foreign policy and DFAT provided a unique opportunity to do that. As an economist in the Department, I have always felt that my skills have been valued, perhaps more so than if I was in a department full of economists. I have often been drawn into policy discussions because of my economics training yet I have not been pigeon-holed into doing only economic-focused jobs. What I love most about my career in DFAT is that I have the opportunity to work on a diverse range of different issues, spanning all of Australia's foreign and trade policy interests. The opportunities and experiences are endless and often unforeseen and sometimes unexpected. Life is never dull.