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Frances Adamson on her career, Australian diplomacy and relations with China

News, speeches and media

Lowy Institute podcast: The Director’s Chair, 2 March 2021

Michael Fullilove: I'm delighted that my guest on this episode of the Director's Chair is the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson. Frances joined the department of Foreign Affairs in 1985. She served in a number of Australian missions abroad including in London, Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing. She also served two tours of duty in Parliament House first as chief of staff to labor Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, and then as the international advisor to liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In 2016. Frances made history when she was appointed the first female Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Frances is one of our very best career diplomats and astute observer of international affairs, someone who is both courteous and clear eyed. So Frances Adamson, thank you very much for joining me today on the Director's Chair.

Secretary Frances Adamson: Great pleasure, Michael.

Michael Fullilove: Frances, let me go right back to your childhood, you grew up in a family that cared about politics and public life? I think I'm right that your Mum was an MP and a minister in the South Australian Parliament. What was that? Like? What interested you in diplomacy? And what was DFAT like when you joined it in the mid-1980s?

Secretary Frances Adamson: I grew up yes with my mother ran for the Senate, when I was about 14 years old, 1975 election, and missed out by less than 500 votes. So I got to understand what it means to campaign and to campaign really hard across the state as all senators do. And then I, you know, saw up close to what it meant to be door knocking in a marginal seat, that then seat of Coles and how hard politicians work to commit connect with their communities. But what I also saw was enough to convince me that I didn't really want to be a politician, what attracted me actually was the service dimension, I thought I'd had a really good education that there were things that I could do. And ultimately, that meant that that Canberra beckoned. I'd had older friends travel overseas, the family had other family members in far flung places. And I grew up hearing about far flung places and started to think a bit more about diplomacy as I was graduating with an economics degree but had to choose between Treasury and Foreign Affairs and remember agonising over that for a good fortnight. So it can’t have been a clear cut thing from the very beginning. The DFAT, I joined, or there was no T on it, and there was no trade it was the Department of Foreign Affairs in in 1985. It felt like a pretty exciting place. I joined the year after the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act. And what that meant in practice, actually, was that I was in the first cohort of Foreign Affairs trainees, as we were then called, where there were more women than men, 14 women and 12 men. And I was very conscious the day I walked in the door, we all were that there was something special about us. We also assume, though, that there was something normal and permanent, if you like about a balance of genders in the in the department. And that's how I started. I then went off on a longish career, had four children along the way. And when I looked again, at all of this, it didn't look all that much different than it had been when I joined. Of course, it was different, but it wasn't. It wasn't gender equal. And the then Secretary, this goes back to my immediate predecessor Peter Varghese was trying to address that. But of course, it was a fascinating place, Australia was in the thick of a whole lot of issues in our region, Australia was, had a capable diplomatic service was contributing through multilateral diplomacy, we had a series of very active foreign ministers. And we always have. Starting with Bill Hayden when I commenced and then quickly moving to, of course, Gareth Evans, and then Alexander Downer, and Australia's always wanted to do things with its diplomacy, we've always been big enough to have a have an impact, if not, in our own right then in concert with others who are committed to the same goal, whether they're sort of like minded in all respects or not. So it's been a pretty fascinating period of history. 30 coming up for 36 years now. And a sense of real engagement, as I think all of my colleagues in the department feel everyone's experience is slightly different. We all think we're unique. And to some extent we are but every diplomat’s essentially doing very similar things in our national interest.

Michael Fullilove: All right, so in our national interest you represented Australia in London twice, I think, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong and Beijing. Which posting did you enjoy the most?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well, it's always said in in DFAT that your first posting’s always special. And the first posting is that the posting you therefore enjoy the most and certainly my first posting in in Hong Kong in the late 1980s, from 1986 to 1990 sort of met in all respects, what, what one could have expected. But I must say my posting to Beijing as Ambassador for a whole variety of reasons from 2011 to 2015 was very challenging professionally, but also, I had a real sense that that there I was in the, in the cockpit of history and, and here was a, you know, China rising again, with all of the opportunities and many of the challenges with all of the, the risks and some of the threats that that has, as we've seen more clearly even since then. So there's no cop out for me to say I've enjoyed every single one, though I have. But I think starting in Hong Kong on China's periphery, if you like, and my last posting Beijing was a very much a high point, even though there were a number of low points within it.

Michael Fullilove: Well, let me ask you about that time, that time in Beijing coincided with Xi Jinping’s emergence as President and his consolidation of power. I remember well, that few analysts really at that time predicted that Xi would become such a force as he did. What were your impressions of him when you served in Beijing? And how have your views on him changed since then?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well, I met him first in 2009. When I accompanied Steven Smith as Foreign Minister to Beijing and Xi Jinping at that point was Vice President, it was widely understood or anticipated that he would become, that he would replace Hu Jintao. But as ever in in the Chinese Communist Party system, these things were not certain until they actually unfolded at the 18th Party Congress towards the end of 2012. So I had a sense of what he was like and the and the way he conducted himself. I think there was a sense when Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang came to power, replacing Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, there was a bit of a sense in China itself, that the previous decade, if you like, had been, and this was widely said, a lost decade of reform, and there was an expectation that that Xi Jinping would, would be perhaps more decisive, more willing to implement reform. A lot of the debate in China at the time was as it had been really since the early days of opening and reform, and I was a witness to those from the Hong Kong side of the border in the late 1980s. But it had been much more about the economy than about China's strategic power and the way it projected itself. In fact, at that time in 2011, the debate and discussion was really much more about encouraging China to take greater role internationally commensurate with its size, commensurate with its role on the UN Security Council. And China had been so reluctant to do that, partly as a result of adhering to Xi Jinping’s hardened by dictum, but also it had been seen to be rather mercantilist, only sort of interested in its own sort of economic development and growth and rather reluctant to contribute, if you like to the global commons, to the greater good. So there was a bit of an expectation that Xi Jinping would do that, because what we saw very early on was a crackdown on corruption. You know, that was very much in keeping with what Chinese leaders on coming to power had done. That wasn't seen to be necessarily anything different. Although, as time went by, the its longevity was noteworthy. And increasingly, I think observers were looking as we were at who was being targeted, and there came to become a sense that corruption in and of itself was definitely to be rooted out. But perhaps there were other agendas as well too, even then, though, I think there was a debate within the diplomatic community in Beijing, was Xi Jinping cracking down on certain things to give himself space to reform? Early disappointments on the part of those who are perhaps more minded towards democratic reform that would know something that might look more like a democracy. Quickly disappointed. I remember we had a debate within the embassy about how quickly Xi Jinping was consolidating his power, if you like, and bear in mind as Ambassador, I'd come from China's periphery from experience in Hong Kong, from experience in Taiwan. We had other colleagues in the embassy who’d served there on a number of occasions, reluctant, if you like to call a consolidation of power, so quickly, but that was what was happening. He was grabbing hold of the reins of power and using them. And as we've seen over time, you know, adding further, if I can mix metaphors, leavers to those reins of power, and really now exercising control the likes of which we've rarely seen, and I think never seen before in in in a stable China the way we do at the moment. So he's got a very, very tight grip.

Michael Fullilove: Now since you left Beijing, there been a lot of developments in the bilateral relationship between Australia and China. And most observers, I think, would say that in the last couple of years, the wheels have fallen off the bilateral relationship. How would you characterize the relationship now? Whose fault is it that it's got to this point? And is there any prospect of the relationship returning to normal anytime soon?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well, look, I think, let me start with the end, I don't think that there is such a thing as normal. And I don't think, you know, even the verb return, I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. I think, you know, Australia wants a workable relationship with China. Our economies continue to be highly complementary. There are areas where we can cooperate, but there are areas and these are now more obvious perhaps than they were when I was in China. But I would point out, it's never been easy. Representing Australia in China, that some of the difficulties that we encounter at the moment have always been there, they are now more pronounced, they are perhaps now more acute. And of course, China is economically much larger and militarily much more powerful. So it's more likely, if you like, to be able to get its way rather than simply arguing a case. I just think it's not the right sort of construct to think of, of normal. I do think, though, that there is there is scope in future for us to be engaging as partners in this region. From a national interest perspective, and as of course, no Australian government could or should, or would be well advised to compromise on our national interests, it's essential that we're able to defend those and prosecute them where we need to. But that doesn't mean that there won't be areas of cooperation in areas where a relationship might be mutually beneficial. As a diplomat, it's not a productive thing necessarily to say, whose fault is this in those laden terms. But I would say the action that the Australian Government has taken, certainly, from our perspective, and perspectives are quite important in this has been very much taken in response to actions that China itself has taken. Now, there may well be a different view from Beijing. And that's the value the value of talking if you like, the value of discourse and dialogue. We're very active, both of us through our embassies, but you know, there is certainly scope for higher level interaction when the time is right for that.

Michael Fullilove: Recently, Beijing has detained a large number of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Can I ask you, especially as you served in Hong Kong, how concerned are you about the future of Hong Kong?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Very concerned. I mean, we're not even we're barely almost at the halfway mark of what was intended to be, you know, 50 years of a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. 50 years of an arrangement which when it was struck between the Chinese and the United Kingdom in the 1980s, the 1984, Sino British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong was absolutely pathbreaking. It was diplomacy at its absolute best, to find a solution to an intractable problem. The future of Hong Kong given the treaty arrangements and the particular timeframes attached to those, but we've barely got to the halfway mark and it's unraveled badly and that is, you know, anyone who knows Hong Kong, anyone who's lived in Hong Kong or knows Hong Kongers, and Hong Kong is a very special place and Hong Kongers are a very special people cannot but lament what is happening there before our very eyes, most sharply since the passage of the National Security Law last year. And what we're now seeing is that law effectively being implemented, which is, you know, to Hong Kong’s detriment and ultimately, I think, to China's detriment also.

Michael Fullilove: Let me go back to the course of your career. You finished up as Ambassador in Beijing, you returned to Parliament House in Australia as the international advisor to Mr. Turnbull, the Prime Minister, and as I mentioned, you previously worked for the other side of politics, his chief of staff to the labor Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith. There have been a lot of shocking stories over the past fortnight, which have shone a very harsh light, really on Parliament House. How did you find your time working in politics on Capitol Hill?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Look, I found both my stints in the Foreign Minister's office, in the Prime Minister's office to be very sort of hard working, hard driving, you're surrounded by extremely capable people who all have the sense that their time in the roles that they have, as a function of democracy, they're limited, no one's there for life. So they want to get on with things, they want to get them done. They're very sort of high-pressure places, or Parliament House is a very high-pressure place, people work very hard, they work very long hours, they work under a great deal of pressure. And in the main, they work with a tremendous amount of skill to actually make a difference. That's why most people are there. So obviously, it's, I mean, what can I say, when we when we learn about the sorts of things that have happened? It's a moment that stops everyone short, we know, it shouldn't be like that. I was certainly struck. You know, in my time in the Foreign Minister's Office, there, there isn't a single culture, I don't think in Parliament House, I mean, every ministerial office has elements of, you know, its own culture, if you like, and, you know, they can, offices can be characterized by, by calm or, or by intellectual debate, or by frenetic activity or by a whole range of things along a spectrum. But there isn't a single culture, because it isn't really a single organization, there are different political parties, different people within those parties, you're along a political spectrum. There are different individuals. But there is there certainly always been scope for, and I experienced this in both offices, for respect, for a respectful workplace, for people's contribution being valued, for it being a really rewarding time. So I think I know that there's a lot more good up there than perhaps has been on display of late. But you know, cultural issues are tremendously important. And I suppose that's one of the reasons why you're I've invested some effort, some time, not a disproportionate amount of time, but the time that has been necessary within my own department to continue the conversation that we've had around our culture, about respectful workplaces, about people belonging, about women in leadership, about diversity and inclusion. And they should be natural conversations. But we can't pretend that every day is a sunny day, and you have to organizations and individuals need to be prepared for rainy days. How do you respond when bad things happen?

Michael Fullilove: Well, let me let me ask you about those questions in the DFAT context if I may. In 2016 you left the PM’s office, you returned to the department as its first ever female Secretary. What steps has the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade taken in recent years to increase the opportunities for women to represent Australia abroad?

Secretary Frances Adamson: For much of my career, I mean, I've just been if you like a woman in DFAT. And I've been helped along the way by some very good colleagues, I've been given good advice, I was given development opportunities, I was given every opportunity to fulfill my potential. And I can honestly say I've always found it a comfortable, supportive, flexible place to work. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to have four stints of maternity leave and the occasional sort of, extra little bit of flexibility when Rod, my British diplomat, husband and I were juggling two careers. But there's a difference between it working for an individual and for a number of individuals and working for an organization. And when I started as Secretary, I returned to about a department that I hadn't actually physically worked in for 16 years. I've been overseas, I'd been up on the hill, I've been overseas, I'd been up on the hill. I came back after 16 years. And I came back to be handed by Peter Varghese, if you like as he, as he walked out the door, we had a discussion about the women in leadership strategy that women in the department had approached him about sponsoring and becoming involved in the previous year, he'd done that. There was some very specific actions that came out of that. And they had to do with things that are, you know, anyone who's worked in this field knows needs to be done around unconscious bias training around targets, about encouraging women to put themselves forward about respectful workplaces, about ensuring that there's good feedback about flexible and remote working, just all the things that I suppose are now well known and pretty well understood. But when they're if they're to be implemented successfully, they've got to be implemented in a really considered determined way, but a way that brings the whole organization along. So we now we comfortably we more than met the targets for Senior Executive Service band one leadership level at those senior levels. And for band two, you know, we had a target of 40% Band twos. By the end of 2020, we were just above 48%. We didn't have a target for heads of mission overseas. But I wanted it to be understood that I saw no reason why there should be any post for Australia or overseas that couldn't be filled by a woman. And I encouraged capable women and men to apply for positions for which they thought they were well suited. Now, for whatever reason, a whole range of small things recognition, encouragement, flexibility, self-belief, hard to know in what proportions, but we've gone from something like I think 25% of female heads of mission when I started, Julie Bishop, of course, Minister for Foreign Affairs, then Marise Payne, of course, Minister for Foreign Affairs now, supportive Prime Ministers in Malcolm Turnbull, and Scott Morrison. And last time I looked towards the end of last year, 42% of our heads of mission, were female. And we've got some brilliant women in some pretty tough places. We've had them in my time, in Kabul, in Baghdad in in Beirut, everywhere, there's nowhere they can't go. And I think we're now down to about 17, or 18 posts in the whole world, which have never been filled by a woman. And that number, I'm happy to say is coming down by a further five in fact, and I'll announce that on Friday, as part of our International Women's Day celebration. So look, but none of this is permanent. You've got to continue to pay attention to your culture. And of course, you just want the best people, whatever their background, male, female, whatever whether they're culturally and linguistically diverse, whether they have a disability of some kind, whether they're Indigenous or not. We just want the very best people to represent Australia. That's what Australia deserves, from all across our country, all sorts of backgrounds. And that's really what I'm on about.

Michael Fullilove: Let me ask you about Australian diplomacy. You mentioned in your first answer about when you joined the department, Australia was out there trying to do things, trying to build things, build institutions and initiatives and so on. Is there a particular style of Australian diplomacy do you think? And I'm, I'm struck here that you as you mentioned, you're married to a British diplomat. So you've had some access to their culture, the Foreign Office as well, which is probably a bit different. What is distinctive about how Australian diplomats go about doing their work?

Secretary Frances Adamson: I think we are seen in a number of capitals in the world as being people who are willing to roll up our sleeves and get things done. That's not necessarily because we are diplomats it's probably has more to do with the fact that we're Australian. But being Australian diplomats, I think it's sort of a can-do approach, a problem solving approach, a convening approach, you know, if you're not a permanent member of the Security Council, when they convene, if you like, through their, through their power in many respects, you've got to convene through the quality of your ideas, the ability to build bridges between people. And we've done that through the umbrella group in on climate change. We've done it, I think, by being a good neighbor in our own region when it comes to ASEAN. Of course, there's a long history of effective Australian diplomacy often with Japan. And when it when it comes to disarmament and nonproliferation, there are a wide range of areas where we've done it and where we will continue to do it. So I'd like to think that we're probably seen as being in the world's top 10 most capable diplomatic services. I mean, we're only in 89 countries, and we only have 111 posts, which is about half of what the really big ones have, you don't have to be big to be effective, but you do have to have deep knowledge of the countries and the issues that you're working with. And I think we can make a real contribution as we are actually, as we have. And as we are during COVID. And whether that has to do with the health aspects of it. Through the work we did on PPE, the work that we did in relation to the WHO inquiry or whether it has to do with the T bit, the bit that was added: Trade in 1987, two years after I started and the contribution that we can make to Australia's economic recovery, you know, through trade and investment and through the World Trade Organization. But also I think we've got some of the world's best trade negotiators and they're continuing to negotiate free trade agreements and Australian businesses, keen with our help to take advantage of those two.

Michael Fullilove: There's also the consular element of DFAT’s work of course and that's been a huge focus over the course of the pandemic. Tell us a bit about DFAT’s work on behalf of Australians abroad during COVID and what do you say Frances to those critics who believe that the Australian Government has abandoned Australians abroad by not allowing them to come home in a timely manner?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well, look, the first thing I'd say is you're absolutely right to draw attention to DFAT’s consular role, and of course, it's not just a role in a theoretical sense. The consular assistance that we provide is provided by Australian consular staff overseas. In fact, all of our staff overseas at the moment, whether they're Australia based and might normally call themselves diplomats, or whether they are consular staff or whether there are locally engaged staff. The single-minded purpose that everyone has had has been to assist Australians facing hardship overseas as a result of COVID many of whom, of course, have been unable to return. Now we know because the statistics tell us that something like 470,000 Australians have returned during COVID. Many of those have been able to come under their own steam. Over 60,000 we've specifically assisted to come home and over 40,000 we've assisted to the point of these facilitated commercial flights which are very labour intensive to do. I from the department's point of view, we feel this very keenly because we are we have a mandate to assist Australians in trouble overseas. We've never given up every single day. We work at this. I've been speaking over the last couple of months, very regularly to as many of our heads of mission as I can. They're personally very invested in this. Their consular staff are very skilled. But it's a big, big, heavy lift, you know, we've specifically assisted in that way over 40,000 Australians, but there are still about 39,000, who've registered with us as wanting to come home, some of those will be able to do so under their own steam, but many of them, including those who are vulnerable, will not be able to do so without, without our assistance. So look, the only thing I can say is, we will keep at it, as long as there's a job to be done. I think many Australians overseas and at home understand why it's been done, the way it's been done. I think there's been quite strong support domestically, obviously, for the policies that the government's pursued. And we have ultimately, at least so far, been very successful in controlling the spread of COVID. And in being able to continue to recover economically, all of that makes us stronger as we come through COVID. All of that makes us more capable, to face some of the big strategic challenges that we're facing, not just in our immediate region, the Indo-Pacific, but more broadly, globally. And, you know, because law has been, Lowy’s been tracking this and measuring it in all the very helpful ways that you do that, you know, it is going to be important to see what changes are made, who's up who's down when COVID once we finally, at a certain point, we when we in a different world, I don't think we should talk about a post COVID world so much as a COVID shaped world and, and how fit we are then to pursue our national interests.

Michael Fullilove: And just quickly on that, you're right, Australia did very well in the Lowy Institute's COVID performance index. The numbers speak for themselves that that the Australian Government had, and Australia has performed well, which is partly some good government decisions, partly the culture, probably of the country, the civil service, and so on. Just at an operational level. How does Australia's good performance on dealing with the pandemic play into the hand and the leverage that Australia has in day to day diplomacy, when you speak to politicians and ministers, they'll say there's a lot of interest overseas in Australia, there's more interest in us. And it's a truism, I guess, in diplomacy that if you want to be strong abroad, you've got to be strong at home. But as the head of the ministry, head of the department, how do you, how does it play in Australia's relative success in dealing with COVID? How does it play into the sort of more operational aspects of diplomacy and foreign policy?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Every single one of our missions and posts overseas, has remained operational during COVID. So if you like being there, and we know including from some, some of my colleagues out in our immediate region across Southeast Asia, how much it's been appreciated that we've had people on the ground there. And if you're doing a WebEx with a foreign ministry, and you're two kilometers down the road, as Steve Robinson's explained to me from Manila, it's still you know, people regard you as being there and being engaged. So we've been able to work with them locally, and a whole range of ways. And very early on, of course, it was, at least in part about reciprocal consular assistance, we help them get their people home and, and that would have been appreciated as well. But I think in terms of the ability to do things, we've remained highly engaged in international organizations in the World Health Organization in the, in the WTO, in the UN in the Human Rights Council for our three years, so we've been able to be there and stay engaged when some others have had to go home. I think where we are at the moment, though, is a tremendous and very natural focus across the globe on the vaccine rollout. The fact that we are seen as having been capable, the fact that we've committed to assisting our own immediate region, the Southwest Pacific, with vaccines and where we can to work across Southeast Asia to provide governments in our immediate region with a choice about which vaccines and where they might purchase them from. That's a very significant thing for many countries in the world. There is interest of course in how Australia's done it, just as we're interested through our embassies overseas in learning how other governments are coping with aspects of this, the Prime Minister himself as you know, through that, what was originally called the first movers group has found it quite valuable to speak to his counterparts as we deal with a you know, the first global pandemic for a century. No one's got a monopoly on good ideas or how to handle it. We've had to continue to learn along the way, we've been very willing to share our learning. And what I see is in almost every diplomatic conversation we have, whether it's my colleagues throughout the department, myself, ministers or the Prime Minister, there is recognition of how Australia has been able to deal with this, even as we've tried to help others deal with it, also.

Michael Fullilove: You mentioned the first movers group, and you do see sort of changes in the constellations of diplomatic groupings a little bit at the moment; we had a foreign ministers meeting of the Quad countries recently. I mean, also, we were discussing Hong Kong earlier. And it's notable to those of us who watch it that often there are Five Eyes statements on Hong Kong or Four Eyes statements, sometimes if New Zealand doesn't sign up. Can you just reflect on those two groupings? The Quad, and Five Eyes as forums or groupings? How do they fit into the broader architecture of Australia's approach to the world? How important are they?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well, I think they're, they're quite important. Every organisation has its purpose, if you like, and these purposes, rarely stand still, they draw, they draw members in. And one of the sort of rationales if you like, a multilateral diplomacy is to be able to bring a wide range of views to a table. But there is nothing quite like having a strong sense of, of purpose, if you like, and like mindedness and the willingness to speak on an issue to try to achieve impact. And you draw attention to statements by the foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, they do have impact, I think, because we all have considerable stake in Hong Kong. We are all upholders of a rules-based system and of, of human rights. And when we speak, I think five voices have carry more weight than one. That's one thing to say, you know, and then the Five Eyes has it had an original purpose, that original purpose, of course, is strong and is maintained. But I think there are and we've seen the Treasurer do this convened meetings of Five Eyes, finance ministers, foreign ministers can do the same thing. The Quad, though, is, I think of a different order, if you like the Quad are bringing together the United States, Japan, India, and Australia has a positive agenda. If you like a growing agenda, you referred to the meeting of foreign ministers last month, that was the first third meeting of foreign ministers. And I think the Quad has become if you like, a key pillar of Australia's international agenda. A lot is said about it. But what is most important to emphasize, I think that it is that it brings together for like-minded democracies committed to respecting and upholding international rules and obligations. And the way we do that is through positive practical engagement to protect and advance sovereignty, the prosperity and the security of the region. Now, the agenda, of course, is growing, there's a lot to be done. It's a positive agenda around COVID vaccines about economic recovery, but there also needs to be a positive agenda about supply chains, cyber critical technologies, critical minerals, the maritime domain, counterterrorism, even. So I think that's highly significant. But we shouldn't underestimate the power either of the G7 or the G7 plus, or, you know, the UN when its members come together on a really good day, or, or APEC, or, actually, in our own region, the centrality of ASEAN, the East Asia Summit. You know, these organizations often were started for a purpose. I think there's a renewed call today, given the challenges we face for them, you know, to live up to the mandate to adapt and adjust and to, to make an impact at what I've spoken about previously is been is a pretty consequential time with a lot of challenges, and no certainty that we will be able to resolve them in the way we’d like to be able to.

Michael Fullilove: Speaking of Southeast Asia and the ASEAN countries, can I ask you about events in Myanmar. On the first of February, the Tatmadaw, mounted a coup against the democratically elected government in Myanmar since then there have been widespread protests and this week reports that a significant number of protesters have been killed by the regime. What is Australia doing with respect to events in Myanmar and in particular, on the consular issue? Again, can I ask you to comment on the case of Dr. Sean Turnell, the highly respected Australian economist, who advised Aung San Suu Kyi and who we believe is still under detention by the regime.

Secretary Frances Adamson: Well look certainly Professor Turnell’s case is of great concern to us. It's one that we've raised directly in Myanmar, including with the Tatmadaw, we would very much like to see him released, and able to return home. And we're working with a wide range of partners seeking to achieve that, in terms of the situation in Myanmar more broadly. And it is, of course, a month today, since the coup was mounted. We continue to urge the Myanmar security forces to exercise restraint. That's all the more important over the weekend, when, as you say, a significant number of protesters, we don't actually know precisely how many but were killed. So we're calling on them to refrain from violence, you know, to release those who they've detained and restore democracy as soon as possible. This is a situation now of grave concern, I think across our own region and the globe more broadly. And, you know, in this day and age to have a very clear, democratic, you know, an outcome of a democratic election overturned, in the way that it has been. It's, it's a shocking development and one, that we all need to, to use all of the levers at our disposal to try to, to produce an outcome, a much more positive outcome than we currently see at the moment.

Michael Fullilove: All right, just a final few questions if I can, Frances, first of all, if I can ask you to reflect on Australian history, the period that you've worked in, in the public service, but even before that, perhaps, who were the foreign ministers and prime ministers that that you most respect, if I can put it that way? You're given you're a serving official, I won't ask you to comment on anyone working in politics now. But who do you think made a real difference to Australia's role in the world?

Secretary Frances Adamson: I think, you know, Michael, I'm going to say something like, you would expect me to say something like, I'm going to say because it's because it's actually true. I mean, I was, I was about 12 years old, 13 years old, when I first met an Australian Prime Minister, that was Gough Whitlam at a at a women in leadership, it might have been called something slightly different than that, conference in the Great Hall in the Old Parliament House that my mother took me and my younger sister to. He is a pretty imposing man. You know, there was there was a lot of upheaval at the time. But if we look back, you know, you can see, there were a number of changes that he introduced that many would argue now, were long overdue. I've met in one for one reason or another, in some cases, worked closely with every Australian Prime Minister since then. I think I've always thought there was something like a prime ministerial gene. You know, a lot of people think they might want to do it, but few are chosen. And there's something when you when you meet them all and I had the opportunity to talk to every Australian Prime Minister from Gough Whitlam through to Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard, before I went to China, as Ambassador and I, I spoke to all of them actually about how they managed the relationship with China. That's when I really got to see the prime ministerial gene at work. And I've seen it since up close. So I think, you know, Prime Ministers, by definition, almost are chosen because they're right for their times, some serve longer than others. What I do know from close-up also is that maintaining the leadership contribution is something that they're, they're all driven to do. And my role has been from a foreign policy perspective, and from the advice that I've given to support them do the best for Australia internationally. So look, there's always something that you learn from them. And it might be in a in a quiet reflective moment or, you know, when the when, when there's great pressure to respond on a particular issue. I'm only talking about foreign policy and all about domestic policy, but they've all grown whatever level of interest they started with. They've all grown immensely in their personal relationships with other leaders and in their ability if you like to, to set a lead, always working very closely with, you know, their foreign minister, but that's a significant part of what being Prime Minister is all about. And we've seen that in spades in the course of, you know, the COVID period with Prime Minister Morrison.

Michael Fullilove: And Frances, what about foreign leaders? You've met, many interesting and important people over the course of your career as a diplomat, as an ambassador. And of course, you've been in the room at the arm of various ministers and prime ministers. Are there one or two foreign figures that you've met afterwards? And really sort of scratched yourself and thought, wow, that person has the gene.

Secretary Frances Adamson: Yes, I mean, and a number and if I think back over all the years, all the decades, and you know, whether it's serving in the, in the UK when Tony Blair, became Prime Minister, I mean, I first saw him, I was part of what I did was report on British politics office or him at a Labour party conference in Brighton. In a fringe event, there are only five people there and immediately, I thought, right, this is, this is a Prime Minister, there is no doubt about that. So that that was early on, I'm pleased to say that, that he and Gordon Brown visited Australia under DFAT’s special visits program. So did Xi Jinping, actually, but it wasn't just I who spotted them in that regard. Look, I think I saw from Beijing, Angela Merkel's visits as Chancellor of Germany to China. And I've had the privilege of accompanying prime ministers in several meetings with her and I think, over a long period of time, she has pursued her country's interests in a way which has been mindful of human rights issues, obviously, very seized of, of Germany's economic interests and broader strategic interests and very committed indeed to, you know, the European project, as they would say. But then there's Shinzo Abe, who just absolutely outstanding in his, in his advocacy of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Narendra Modi, of course, leader of, of India, close to 1.4 billion people with all the challenges that that implies. And then you meet leaders of very small countries have just got the whole thing together. So but they would be the ones I'd mentioned, they'd be the ones who stand out. But what I'm looking forward to at some point is, is more time to actually think over the last 36 years and perhaps savor some of those moments a bit more than you can when you running from one thing to the next.

Michael Fullilove: Well, that's an interesting note to end on. Does that mean there's a book in you, Frances, if you got a memoir, coming up?

Secretary Frances Adamson: Look, I'm not in current planning. I did write a letter home once a week from Beijing, it was a genuine letter home, it was able to be sent over email, there was nothing that shouldn't have been in there that was in there. There are a few veiled references to things that were going on at the time. I might one day trek back over those. But I but they make interesting reading even now.

Michael Fullilove: Well, when you look to publish that you'll have to give the Lowy Institute the first right of refusal, right Frances?

Secretary Frances Adamson: [Laughs] I'm not looking to publish make me let me make that clear.

Michael Fullilove: Frances Adamson, thank you very much for such an interesting conversation. Thank you for telling us about all these fascinating individuals with whom you've interacted. But most importantly, thank you for speaking with me today on the Director's Chair about your career and your life. Thank you, Frances.

Secretary Frances Adamson: Pleasure, Michael.

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