Wednesday, 3 April 2019
United Nations General Assembly: Interns
I've been asked what I learnt while attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. One aspect, in particular, was exceptional. DFAT sponsors eight interns during the United Nations General Assembly. The interns in 2018 were: Genevieve Feely; Bree Smeaton; Caitlin Clifford; Hayley Keen; Sahema Saberi; Alexander Bridges; Kate Renehan; and Amos Washington, the UN Youth Representative. What a joy it was to meet them. I asked them to share their reflections so we could capture them for parliament. Here are their words.
Kate wrote: 'The UN is really just a group of people working together to get the job done. I think when you study law and politics the UN can become this body that exists outside of reach and can be a thing that is put on a pedestal. Whilst it is exciting and insane, and some of the characters you see are miles outside of a usual workplace, seeing some of the bureaucratic and benign aspects was important to get the perspective that the UN is still just another workplace where people are doing their jobs, furthering the state's national interest or trying to keep the peace.'
Hayley wrote: 'There's a real opportunity here for Australia to drive world-changing foreign policy if we give diplomats space to act. Australia is seen as a great partner and the government should be proud and want innovation in our work here.'
Caitlin wrote: 'The most important lesson was empathy—learning to see the world through others' eyes by asking, "What do they see and how might this inform their perspective?" I learnt to look for common ground and to find strength in our diversity, since diversity injects new perspectives, networks and resources that challenge institutional deadlocks and paradigms.'
Genevieve wrote: 'Having your world view challenged is a good thing. As I worked mostly on Israel-Palestine issues I had to set aside my personal opinions and sometimes even actively work against them. Funnily enough, when I was open to it, my opinion was changed and I'm now glad it was, because seeing the shades of grey in what is presented as a black-and-white issue is very helpful. It made me realise how lucky we are to be from such a well-respected and liked country.'
Some other points related to the scale of the information—how easy it was for horrific numbers to become sanitised from the safety of New York, hearing that 15 million people are starving in Yemen or of the millions of refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar and Syria. It's difficult to comprehend. Amos spoke of his journey in gathering the voices of the youth of Australia. The final insight was from Kate: 'I think one of lighter lessons I took from New York was that diplomats are as much actors as they are experts. Part of the job is representative and sometimes it requires a strong poker face or, for some states, a powerful dramatic streak.' Just like parliament, I would say!
Sahema, whose words were not captured, is a young woman of Muslim faith, sharing her life and gentle views with all of us, reassuring us of Australia's potential to move forward beyond the hysteria of prejudice and love others for who they are. And there's Bree, with her effervescent personality. You are all amazing.