Australia’s diplomacy matters more than ever in the digital age / Julie Bishop

Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister

Through DFAT’s new Digital Media Strategy I am supporting Australia’s envoys to reshape our diplomacy for the 21st Century.  I want our diplomats to embrace digital tools to broadcast messages and to explain to the public our work to make Australia stronger, safer, and more prosperous.

This strategy comes at an important time. We live in a faster, more connected world. This challenges diplomacy.

When former British Foreign Minister Lord Palmerston first saw the telegram in the 1840s he said: ‘My God, this is the end of diplomacy!’ When the fax machine came along, some said it could replace foreign embassies.

Smartphones cannot replace diplomacy, but diplomats must adapt. That is why I am asking DFAT to work smarter online. Technology allows us to reach and influence people on a scale like never before and we must embrace this.

Enhanced digital engagement will enable DFAT to better connect with government and non-government organisations, business and community groups, aid and trade partners and recipients. It will also help the Government better inform Australians of our foreign, aid and trade policies, and our consular and passport services, to explain why these matter, and the difference they make – globally and at home.

Social media enables diplomats to share a contemporary view of Australia with the world, to showcase its unique qualities. It helps us reach people we may have struggled to reach in the past. This extends our engagement and connection.

For example, the Government’s signature scholarship program the New Colombo Plan has recently held Facebook Live information sessions, engaging with undergraduate students.

In November DFAT also launched a stream of live updates from the Department’s social media accounts across its global network, combining these into a single, interactive webpage.

Despite technological changes, we need diplomacy more than ever. I want Australia’s diplomats to ask themselves: ‘What makes a good modern diplomat?’

The answer is tact, curiosity, courage, and networking. Technology enables diplomats to listen and cultivate those networks. I can instantly SMS counterparts, regardless of where they are in the world. Thanks to TwitterInstagram and Facebook I am engaging with foreign governments and the public in my role as Foreign Minister.

Having a Twitter account is however not the same as influence: 140 characters cannot replace human interaction, patience, and negotiating quietly behind closed doors. Twitter doesn’t know when it’s better to say nothing and listen, rather than say too much.

That is why traditional diplomacy is still necessary. Communicating, explaining, listening, understanding and persuading – these are vital for sustaining relationships, addressing shared challenges, building trust, transparency, and a successful foreign policy.

The strategy that I am launching today is about serving our national interest in the 21st Century. I am asking Australia’s diplomats to respond to the challenges of the digital age as they advocate for human rights, work for the security and safety of Australia’s citizens, promote Australian business internationally and serve our national interest.

As technology continues to grow and reshape our world we will all need to be brave, creative, involved, and connected. This blog aims to help Australians better connect the world with us, and to help bring Australia to the world.

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