Wednesday, 17 August 2022

It is my great pleasure to join you this evening to support my former colleague, Ian Kemish, as we launch his book The Consul in South Australia.

I thank the University of Adelaide for generously hosting this evening’s event.

Ian and I have known each other for close to 25 years.  We worked together in Canberra.  We served overseas in the same regions at the same time while Ian was Ambassador to Germany and High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea. We’ve kept in touch as Ian’s post-DFAT career developed.  He has never been shy.

However, it is arguably Ian’s contribution as the Head of Australia’s Consular Service which has brought him the most attention, when he played a pivotal role in Australia’s response to some of the most dramatic events of the early twenty-first century.

These include the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings, the latter for which he was awarded membership of the Order of Australia.

The Bali bombings – or more specifically, the 3am phone call which informed him of the tragedy - provided Ian with the dramatic opening of this book.

Unlike other countries such as Britain and the United States, few Australian diplomats choose to write books at the end of their careers, reflecting on their experiences.

Therefore, I’m very pleased that Ian has chosen this path.

Not only is it a gripping read at times, The Consul will give its readers considerable insight into the workings of the Australian consular service, and, I hope, increase their appreciation of it.

Australia is widely regarded for having one of the best consular services in the world, yet Australians themselves typically understand very little of what it does.

That is until something goes wrong for them overseas – and then they give it great thought!

I had some insights into work of the consular service during my own DFAT career.

Early on, during my first posting to Hong Kong, I took a call on a weekend as consular duty officer from an Australian tourist whose husband had died while they were on holiday.  While I could offer words of comfort, it was our senior consular officer who knew precisely what advice to offer and how to make all the necessary arrangements for the repatriation of the body to Australia.

Years later, while I was Ambassador to China, I worked closely with consular colleagues on the cases of Australians detained there.  Some of these took many years to resolve.  Others remain unresolved.  All involved great stress for our consular clients and their families.

The COVID pandemic required a consular response of previously unimaginable proportions.  As Secretary, I would often start my day in DFAT’s Crisis Centre talking to the night shift as they left and the day shift began to arrive and thanking them for what they were doing for Australians in need overseas.

Ian, Rod and I extend our warmest congratulations to you, and Roxanne, on the launch of The Consul.

May the book experience great success and add weight to your already distinguished career and contribution to Australian diplomacy.

We wish you all the best for your promotional activities and, of course, your book sales!