Phil Scanlan (Australian Consul General to New York; Founder, Australian-American Leadership Dialogue)

20.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1: The Australian and American Leadership Dialogue promotes dialogue in fostering mutual understanding, and has created networks of business and community leaders.  Could such initiatives for dialogue advance further dialogue rather than simply reviewing the bilateral relationship—and also for former global issues such as climate change that could be addressed?

Well, they are.  That’s a very good question. There’s nothing that precludes the delegates.  No subject is precluded from being addressed; as I have been saying, there is a global view.  So you are bringing the American and Australian leaders together with a view of the world and they bring a perspective or a focus of their own on those global issues.  Climate change is a classic example of that.

Q2: Although many Chinese students attend Australian universities, it’s not the case in reverse.  Do you think that this would create cultural understanding between the two countries and spark an interest among Australian students to seek out universities in China? And would such an engagement on the part of both countries allow for an environment more conducive to discussion of issues that involve both countries?

Yes, in fact, out of the Consulate General of Australia in New York, we are actually well engaged with the Global China Connection which is a group of young Chinese leaders from two particular universities, Peking and Xiang Wa Universities, who are seeking to create chapters of their own in Australia—and I’m helping them do that, so the answer is “absolutely.” It’s an example of soft power at work between China and Australia. These young people we are meeting from China have open minds; they’ve got very inquisitive minds, as do our young Australians, so I think there is great potential in pursuing that avenue.

Q3: The measures the Australian government has taken towards the mandatory detention of asylum seekers have not only been called a violation of human rights but have also cost the Australian government $709 million. What is your opinion on the alternative of community detention? Would this allow for better treatment of the refugees, and be more cost-effective?

Well, I think this is a very taxing issue that countries all around the world are dealing with, and one of the interesting things is that Australia is one of the top three resettlement countries with the US and Canada: we’ve got a very significant immigration program. The mandatory detention aspect relates to the people who are subjects of illegal human trafficking. It’s not an easy matter to deal with and there is no single solution, so I think that what the government is currently doing is exploring a number of avenues to get the best possible outcome for the human beings involved—while still trying to ensure that there are proper rules of the game in place so that people who are illegally trafficking human beings are being called to account.

Thank you for your time.