Private Diplomacy: The Experience of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue

On February 27, 2013, the Australian Consul General in New York, Mr. Phillip H. Scanlan AM, welcomed members of YPFP NY to the Australian Consulate for the second event in YPFP New York’s Global Diplomacy Series, “Private Diplomacy: The Experience of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.”

In his formal remarks, Mr. Scanlan described the Australian American Leadership Dialogue (AALD), which is an initiative that he founded in 1992. The AALD plays an influential and bipartisan role in building links between Australia and the United States, bringing together top American government officials and their Australian counterparts for in-depth, closed conversations.  The purpose of the AALD is to facilitate mutual understanding among Australian and American leaders, and has been publicly described as being "the most significant exercise in private diplomacy ever undertaken in Australian history."

Though YPFP members would need to wait some years before participating in the Leadership Dialogue, they might be particularly interested in another initiative that Mr. Scanlan recently started, the New York Young Leader’s Program.

AALD began when Mr. Scanlan, then a businessman, took the opportunity during a boat ride in Sydney Harbor with then-president George H. W. Bush to gain U.S. presidential support for the initiative. The names of American attendees mentioned in the lecture reads like a who’s who of American politics, and it’s the only high-level, private diplomatic initiative of its kind. Paul Wolfowitz recently went on record saying that no one thought the Leadership Dialogues would last more than three years; the AALD is now in its twenty-first year.

According to the Consul General, this is because AALD participants kept coming back year after year for the quality of the conversations and the breadth of topics discussed. The events are not geared towards producing specific outcomes, and as a moderator Mr. Scanlan discourages speech making; participants are there to share their worldviews and to hear those of others. American politicians have said to Mr. Scanlan that the AALD is one of the only places that, despite political party affiliation, they can represent themselves without impunity as members of the same ‘Team USA’.

“Nightcaps are also very useful,” Mr. Scanlan joked.

The discussion at the Australian Consulate detailed the close relationship between Australia and the United States and the Australian Consulate provided a handout for those who wanted to learn more: for YPFP attendees who probably devoured their college class readings, the copy of a chapter entitled “Secrets of the Alliance: Roosevelt, Spender and Scanlan,” left on each chair was a little gift.  

Mr. Scanlan remarked that the United States is—and will continue to be—Australia’s most important strategic partner. While China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, Mr. Scanlan highlighted that it is the United States that is Australia’s biggest economic partner overall, noting in particular investment.

As Australia’s Consul General in New York, Mr. Scanlan does not just listen to other world leaders—he brings about conversations and fosters global dialogue.

“We’re in the G-20 now,” Mr. Scanlan said. “Australia doesn’t want to just give advice. We want to listen, then have a conversation.”

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Eve Ahearn is associate director of communications for YPFP NY.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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