heads of mission is a significant move - and yes, a costly one. It is only for a three day meeting but it will cost over a million dollars. The purpose of the meeting for the Downunder representatives abroad is to discuss and shape foreign policy into the future - if such a thing is possible in a rapidly changing and increasingly turbulent world.
There's a "white paper" on the way. It should be delivered by the end of the year.
There was a call for public submissions for this "white paper". I had the inevitable call from a colleague in Canberra, "Cat, would you please say something about this. You know the sort of thing we want. Make it short, sharp and shiny - around 500 words would be nice if you can do it."
I would have liked more words, many more words. I also know that, if people are going to read and take note, then 500 words is probably good. They can call me in if they want to know more.
I wrote. I checked. I wrote some more. I checked again. I deleted. I added. I checked. I asked my friend R..., a former Senator, for some advice - not about policy but about the mechanics of doing this. After all, I have put in more than one Senate submission in my life time - but they have all been for other areas where someone who knows me well has asked me well beforehand and I have known exactly what they want. This time I was writing from a different perspective altogether.
I don't know whether they will take any notice. All I really said in the end was that Downunder must change linguistic focus. It is no good teaching Japanese and Chinese badly and hoping that covers our foreign policy needs. The world has changed since someone first thought there was a need for those languages. Now we need Arabic, Spanish, French, and more Indonesian.
I tried to explain this to someone I know. He had no idea what languages were spoken in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, or Egypt - or, it would seem, anywhere else. This man is intelligent and well educated but he is an architect, not a linguist. "Everyone should just speak English" is his attitude.
I know it isn't the government's attitude but I wonder if they will be willing to spend the time, the money, and the effort on developing the linguistic skills we need to communicate in the 21st century. My Arabic is almost non-existent. I can't really put a sentence together in Spanish, French or Indonesian. I am a linguistic moron and yet it is my job to work with these, and other, languages. If I can't do it then I wonder if those working on the "white paper" will take any notice at all? Still, I have written the 500 words and pressed the "send" button.