‘Trust deficit’: UK’s top envoy to Australia on diplomacy inside WikiLeaks era

number of decades ago, when Menna Rawlings joined the foreign office after university, the profession was really a closed circle. Nobody contemplated private cables finding their option to the general public domain.

That changed really, when WikiLeaks dumped a lot more than 250,000 classified cables, sparking a universal diplomatic crisis.

Rawlings, that has served as the UK high commissioner to Australia since 2015, says the big dump, as well as its aftermath, have changed the manner in which diplomats look at the relationships they develop on postings, and how they report back on events.

In a broad-ranging conversation with Guardian Australia’s politics podcast before her return to London in January, Rawlings is candid regarding the impact. She says knowing lines between professional contacts and individual friendships is “becoming more difficult for diplomats generally since the age we are living in is more open and transparent in comparison to the past”.

Since the WikiLeaks dump, “there’s an authentic challenge for individuals once we report what individuals enlighten us”, Rawlings says. “I always think to myself: wouldn’t Personally i think when this leaked? Twenty or Thirty years ago, you may weren’t required to take into account that.”

Asked whether that worry about private communication becoming public now impedes diplomatic work, working against candour, Rawlings says there’s not one answer.

“I think it is important we can speak truth to power, and if you inhibit yourself an excessive amount with regards to your analysis or the extent that you report private conversations, you are not doing your job and also you should.”

She says diplomats need to adapt C take greater care, limit circulation of sensitive information when necessary. “If you are really concerned with it, you decide on within the phone and give the material verbally. There exists more like that than there was in the past.”

Despite the pitfalls, Rawlings says transparency could be the correct principle. She insists diplomats need not function in closed and clubbish ways to succeed.

“I think we must work hard to define the boundary between precisely what is private and make that tighter, versus what we should are usually more open about, because normally I do think there exists scope to become more open of what we perform.”

Rawlings also thinks practical components of diplomacy, like consular work, are “really important” in an age of declining trust in political systems also in institutions.

When two British backpackers were killed in the frenzied attack in your own home Hill in Queensland in 2016, Rawlings visited the scene and worked Australian agencies as well as families of the sufferers to attempt to provide information and comfort.

“In the time of the trust deficit issue we all face, getting that right is really important,” Rawlings says. “Diplomacy can sound very highfalutin’ and intellectual as well as some from it is rather secret and private, but [consular work] is indeed a probability to engage with the British public.”


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