Why ex-politicians like Barry O’Farrell can make great diplomats

Why ex-politicians like Barry O'Farrell can make great diplomats

Barry O’Farrell’s appointment as Australia’s next high commissioner to India is an apt decision by the Morrison government. However, it will coincide with growing criticism of political appointments for Australia’s heads of mission abroad, much of which does not withstand scrutiny and fails to acknowledge their unique capabilities.

Barry O’Farrell, the former NSW premier appointed as Australia’s next high commissioner to India.

Some will call it nepotism, but O’Farrell’s appointment is symbolic of the changing face of diplomacy. The 43rd premier of NSW, he offers a unique skill set and a comparative advantage that mirrors other political appointees – from Kim Beazley, Joe Hockey or Arthur Sinodinos in Washington to Alexander Downer, Mike Rann and George Brandis in London.

Hockey, until recently our ambassador in Washington, recounted “you are competing with hundreds of other countries for access – it is a diplomatic and cultural arms race”. This depiction rings true for Delhi, too. The right political heads of mission benefit from a distinct diplomatic advantage.

They operate in political and diplomatic environments that are well suited to the skills of ex-politicians. While O’Farrell’s appointment is to a mission that has traditionally been filled from within the ranks of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, his credentials and the current geopolitical landscape will suit him.

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