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|December 4, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/Penelope Anne Wensley
It was over a month ago that Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced the country's new high commissioner for India, succeeding Rob Laurie. A request for an interview was put in immediately with the department of foreign affairs and trade as Penelope Anne Wensley was going to be in Australia only briefly to attend pre-posting briefings and meet various officials. In an interview conducted before her departure for India, Ambassador Wensley spoke to Neena Bhandari from Sydney international airport. Excerpts:
How does it feel to be moving to New Delhi?
The move from New York to New Delhi is certainly going to be a dramatic one, but it is a posting I have sought actively for the depth, breadth and diversity of the Indo-Australian relationship. India is one of our major postings in Asia and since the September 11 attacks on the US, the attention and spotlight of the international community has turned strongly towards South Asia.
Assuming office in India at a juncture when the situation in the subcontinent is so volatile, what will be your priorities as Australia's high commissioner?
We believe there is scope for Australia and India to work closely together and develop a stronger dialogue on regional and international security matters. Everyone is mindful that India committed itself early and strongly in the war against terrorism. There is keen interest in the views and the promising approaches of India as a major regional player and an increasingly important world player.
I imagine that within the Australian bureaucracy there will be a continuing keen interest in the reporting on the economic and political developments in India and views and policy approaches of India. This is the message that clearly came across during my consultations with various federal government departments and agencies here.
Having worked as a career diplomat for 35 years, you have had the opportunity to work closely with Indian colleagues, be it as Australia's ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in New York or as consul-general in Hong Kong or first secretary in Paris. What are you expecting from the bureaucracy in New Delhi?
I have always admired Indian diplomats as highly professional and very agreeable colleagues. At the UN, I have enjoyed working with Shashi Tharoor [now undersecretary general]. I am going with very high expectations of meeting and working with highly articulate, informed and educated people in India.
What are the major challenges facing you in this new posting?
I think it is fair to say there is insufficient understanding and awareness in India of Australia's creativity as a nation. Often we are seen maybe through a prism of cricket, which is very important, but it perhaps obscures the fact that Australia has a lot more to offer to India in the fields of trade, environment, education and health. I believe public diplomacy and raising the level of awareness in India of what contemporary Australia is and what it has to offer to India will be a major challenge.
Educated at the University of Queensland, you hold a first-class honours degree in English language and literature and French. Since the announcement of your posting, have you been reading about the subcontinent?
There is so much good stuff around on India and by Indian authors that it is hard to choose. Amongst the books I am taking with me on the flight to read is Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things.
How has your family reacted to this move?
My husband, Dr Thomas Stuart McCosker, and I have always tried to make every posting a place that becomes a home. We travel widely and see as much of the country as possible, plunging ourselves deeply into the country's history and culture. I doubt if one can have a richer and more absorbing country to be posted to. He is looking to sharing my time in India and working in his personal capacity as a veterinarian. We have two daughters completing their law degrees here. They had strongly hoped that this time I would get a home posting. They will be joining us for Christmas in India.
Is there anything you are apprehensive about?
Perhaps the climate, which will be trying and will require some adjusting. Though I grew up in Queensland, Canberra has been my home for several years and the heat is the only thing that might be of concern. I am very optimistic and excited about serving a term in New Delhi.
Design: Rajesh Karkera
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