The Road to Washington DC Starts in the Nation’s Capital

I was recently fortunate enough to be selected as a Global Voices Scholar, and Australian Youth Delegate, to the World Bank & IMF Annual Meetings in Washington DC later this year. Ahead of the delegation, I travelled to Canberra for three days of pre-departure briefings and meetings with Australian think-tanks, diplomats, MPs and senior policy-makers. This provided an opportunity not only to meet with senior officials and to receive input and advice on my policy research, but provided a chance to gain a deeper insight into the inner workings of various government departments, and to better understand Australia’s role and priorities at the World Bank and IMF.

Joined by three other delegates to the World Bank-IMF, as well as two other delegations (Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations and The Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC), Canberra provided an opportunity to get to know each other, share our respective policy research topics and to talk about pressing global and domestic issues.

 

Day One

Arriving in Canberra I was greeted by an unfamiliar setting – a small, sparse and quiet city, yet one with a sense of true purpose and determination. This was my first time in Canberra, and it was off to a good start. I was off the plane and in an Uber in under 10 minutes. With a bit of time before having to check in and begin meetings, I took the chance to walk around part of the city. A few hours later I had checked into the hotel and met the other delegates. Before heading out to dinner, we split off into two groups. The delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women attended a round-table on ‘Women, Peace & Security’ hosted at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre, while the remaining delegates attended pre-departure briefings at the Executive Room of the Telstra Tower. Here, delegates to the World Bank-IMF and COP23 were briefed on the agenda for upcoming days, received an overview of what our delegations would look like and briefly reviewed our research proposals.

The delegation to the World Bank & International Monetary Fund are undertaking policy research into matters such as cryptocurrencies, blockchain, automation, artificial intelligence, economic displacement and the taxation of multinational corporations. My policy proposal will focus on the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the Australian economy, the role of government in creating effective policy frameworks and the need for multi-stakeholder engagement.

The Australian Delegation to the Climate of Parties are forming policy proposals on issues and instruments such as collaborative governance, behavioural economics, the Paris Rulebook, strategies to reduce emissions, the sharing economy, the Global Climate Fund, sustainable agriculture and its application in Australia, community mobilisation and energy programs, increasing private sector action and improved monitoring and tracking of private sector investment.

Delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations will be investigating how information and communication technology can be used as an instrument to advance and empower women, methods to improve literacy and numeracy amongst indigenous and rural women, as well as policies and schemes to transform media platforms to be supportive of women’s sexual and health rights.

CSW delegates will further be evaluating the accessibility of sexual health services and resources for regional women, and the need to design services with a consideration of societal and attitudinal barriers, including geographical and practical disadvantages.

After finishing our pre-departure briefings, the World Bank-IMF and COP23 delegates went out for dinner to get to know each other, to discuss our research papers and to talk about some domestic and international issues; such as Australian foreign policy, US foreign policy, the 2016 US Presidential Election, international trade, North Korea, Brexit, crypto-currencies, and much more.

Day Two

After breakfast, our second day began with a scenic walk to the Treasury department where we met with Sue Vroombout, Division Head of International Engagement and Policy within the Treasury Department’s Macroeconomic Group. This provided us with our first insight into the role and priorities of Australia at the World Bank and IMF (from both a Treasury and DFAT perspective). Our discussion covered the importance of global economic stability, Australia’s role in supporting and representing the Asia-Pacific region (particularly the Indo-Pacific), the importance of Australian foreign aid (offering a hand up not a hand out), VOICE reform, how Treasury was enabling organisations to operate in the regulatory ‘sandbox’ to explore new technologies, the importance of international trade as well as domestic and international taxation policy.

Following our meeting at Treasury we had a quick coffee break before heading to the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to meet with Rachael Farrell, Senior Advisor for International and Engagement within the Office for Women. Here we discussed Australia’s priorities and engagement at the United Nations CSW, the impact of the new US administration, global trends, foreign aid, international negotiations, the Sustainable Development Goals and political incrementalism.

After a very interesting and insightful discussion with Rachael Farrell, we headed to a foreign policy roundtable with the Australian Institute for International Affairs (AIIA). Meeting with Melissa Tyler (National Executive Director), Linda Hague (National Office Operations), and several members of the AIIA team – we had an extensive, thought provoking policy roundtable on critical domestic and global issues currently impacting Australian policy setting.

Our discussion on domestic policy covered the shifting economic landscape, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, economic and nationalistic populism, social-support programs, perceptions of democracy and democratic institutions in 2017 and AIIA’s role in the EU-Australian Leadership forum and their various publications.

The discussion on foreign policy looked at global security (with a particular focus on North Korea), the impact of Brexit, the strength of the European Union, international trade policy, dynamic policy in an ever-changing world, climate change and implications of the new US administration. The roundtable also covered the importance of a ‘rules based global order’ for a ‘middle-power’ such as Australia and how this was constantly evolving, and highlighted the importance of our strategic alliances.

After the roundtable, the team went out for lunch, with the majority deciding to get burgers. After an extended lunch we headed back to Parliament House to meet with The Hon. Andrew Leigh MP, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Federal Member for Fenner in the ACT. Before taking questions, Andrew gave us an insight into his past and what drew him to public policy and public service. It was great to hear his story and thoughts on what it means to be an Australian, the importance of volunteering, his take on domestic policy, and his advice to the next generation of Australian leaders (‘drink from the fire-hydrant’).

Andrew was generous enough to answer some questions on Australian economic policy and priorities, artificial intelligence and automation, the future of work, cryptocurrencies and multinational taxation policy, inequality, climate change (including disclosure and transparency) and domestic support programs.

This concluded our formal meetings and briefings for the day. After heading back to the hotel to drop off our books, myself and a few others went out for dinner, drinks and discussions. It was a great way to wind down a busy and information heavy day, with many topics from throughout the day being discussed before our attention shifted to the meetings for the next day.

Day Three

Our final day was filled with meetings at Parliament House and attending Question Time. After passing through security (and setting the scanners off) we met with Former Speaker of the House Harry Jenkins, who gave us a private tour of Parliament throughout the day and sat in on meetings. We were fortunate enough to hear some stories from his time in the house, his thoughts on current issues and his thoughts on the design of Parliament House.

Our first official meeting for the day was with The Hon. Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister. Minister Bishop was generous enough to share with us her experience as Foreign Minister, the role of Australia throughout the globe, our role at each of the delegations, Australia’s bid and approach for the Human Rights Commission, the upcoming trip to the United Nations, North Korea and other pertinent issues. We were fortunate enough for Minister Bishop to answer some of our questions such as her thoughts on the geopolitical risks to Australian prosperity and security in the 21st Century.

Following our meeting with The Hon. Julie Bishop MP we continued our tour of Parliament house before meeting with independent member The Hon. Cathy McGowan AO. The Hon. Cathy McGowan underscored the importance of youth participation in politics and policy setting, the role of women in policy, her experience and expertise in agriculture, and offered some words of advice for our future careers and attendance at each respective delegation.

So far our meetings and briefings had underscored the determination and genuine interest on a variety of issues by members of parliament, policy-advisors and think-tanks, and had exceeded my own expectations. Yet the theatricality of domestic politics, often placated for quick ‘snippets’ seen on television, was quickly returned when we attended question time. In this realm where catchy phrases or one-liners trump substantive discussion, whether due to their effectiveness, voter demands or broad reach, it was nonetheless somewhat disappointing, and highlighted the difference between policy-making and politics.

Shortly after Question Time finished, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave us ten minutes of his time, sharing some brief thoughts on Australia’s role at the World Bank and IMF, international issues, the changing geopolitical environment, and some words of encouragement ahead of our delegations. It was a great way to end several days of briefings and meetings on some of the most important and impactful issues of our time.

I would like to thank Global Voices for organising the fantastic briefings, meetings and scholarship. It was the perfect way to start the process and I am looking forward to Washington DC. If you would like to know more, get in touch or see what we get up to in DC, please feel free to contact me, add me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

 

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