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Published 25 Dec 2013

We have new political leaders on both sides of politics – many of them with little or no experience of international affairs. At the weekend, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop were participating in their first significant set piece occasion – the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka. Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek are new to their jobs.

This unusual situation highlights the importance and influence of the public servant that heads the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Peter Varghese, one of Australia’s most experienced diplomats. He has been director-general of the Office of National Assessments, high commissioner in India and Malaysia, international adviser in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and many other postings.

More than most, he understands that Australia’s foreign policy faces a period of uncertainty in a changing world, and has already briefed our political leaders.

Next Monday he will be briefing the AIIA when he delivers the annual Charteris Oration at the Union, Universities and Schools Club in Sydney. If you want to hear first-hand the country’s leading foreign affairs authority on the challenges facing Australian foreign policy, then I hope you will accept this invitation to come to one of Sydney’s most important public policy events this year. Details are below.

The rising power of China, the importance of East Asia and the Indo-Pacific in world affairs, and problems in Europe are part of this changing world, as well as rapid technological development. Another phenomenon is people power, which first made a big impact in changing the course of the American-Vietnam War, and which has proliferated in recent years through the rapid growth of social networks.

As a timely prelude to the Charteris Oration by Peter Varghese, this Tuesday 19 November Professor John Keane examines the spread of influence of people power in recent times. Professor Keane is director of the Institute for Democracy at the University of Sydney, and the author of many books on the subject. This meeting will be at 6pm at the Glover Cottages; again, details are below.

I hope you will join us at both meetings, as our program for 2013 draws to a close.

Colin Chapman

President, AIIA NSW