Farewell to Outgoing High Commissioner

Alexander Downer AC has an extremely impressive CV. From working as the United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus to his role as Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister.

The departing High Commissioner was appointed to the position in March 2014. For those who didn’t know, Alexander Downer’s father also held the title of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1972. He is in the left portrait of the image at the top of this article.

The passionate South Australian and active South Australia Club member dropped into our office for a chat to discuss our mutual interest as we also said farewell and best wished in his future endeavors.

What has been your highlight as High Commissioner?
I think the highlight has probably been the Brexit referendum in 2016, and the change in the UK since then as the country has reoriented itself away from Europe and more to the rest of the world and that has included a heightened focus on Australia.

What is the perception of South Australia in the United Kingdom?
I think there is more of a perception of Adelaide itself than South Australia more broadly. If you draw people’s attention to the Adelaide Hills, the Fleurieu Peninsula and the food and wine experience they are often familiar with that. A lot of Brits have visited South Australia and a lot of Brits have relatives in South Australia. Quiet a lot of people know about Kangaroo Island and the Flinders Rangers. I think we should look at marketing the Flinders Ranges more than what we do, given the spectacular beauty and unique environment. Adelaide itself is seen as a gold medal lifestyle city, clean, green, beautiful and marvellous weather. I think Adelaide has a very good reputation as a city, its best known for its quality of life rather than our excellence in individual industries.

As a local South Australian, what do you think our competitive advantages are?
South Australia for the visitor, is a place where you can see all the strengths of Australia in one relatively small area. There are splendid beaches, no beach is better than South Australia’s Carrickalinga North Bay beach, where I have my beach house. The Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula, just wonderful areas to visit for the wineries, the rolling country side, the little cafes and restaurants and pubs and is very beautiful in Autumn when the leaves are all changing colours. You can go to places like the organic market in Stirling and get the best coffee in the world.

Adelaide is a city of a bit over a million yet is big enough to be able to host major arts events and entertainers. It is also big enough to host major sports events, so you get the Adelaide Festival, the Fringe, the biggest festival in Australia by a very big margin, you get entertainers passing through of one kind to another, pop to classical. You get Test Cricket and one day internationals at the Adelaide Oval, which is Australia’s leading sports stadium. You have two AFL teams, one really great team, the Adelaide Crows, the other some people support… [Port Adelaide]. There’s Adelaide United, the soccer team, a basketball team and so on.

There is everything anybody could want in South Australia. I could become the Agent General here…

How have you seen South Australia change in your time as High Commissioner?
Adelaide’s reputation as a defence centre is starting to get traction, for example in the UK BAE Systems is very big in Adelaide, people in defence industry in the UK increasingly know about Adelaide and British companies bidding for work in the defence sector in South Australia.

People have [also] become more aware of the Adelaide oval.  The last game I went to there was the Adelaide Crows against Collingwood, the weekend just before I left to come here and the Adelaide Crows won comprehensively. The new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the gradual change in the cityscape, very much for the better. This has also meant that there are better facilities available, for example, conferences and conventions in Adelaide than would have been the case before I left.

How do you think Bill Muirhead has raised South Australia’s profile as Agent General?
Bill Muirhead is an outstanding Agent General, he is incredibly well-connection in London. I have often said, for a representative, be it a federal representative or the Agents General they must be connected. That makes it very difficult for diplomats who come here for three years and must move on, they can do their best but they’re never going to be as well connected as somebody who lives here permanently. Bill has lived here for many years and maintains a network within South Australia. He knows so many of the movers and shakers and in that sense,  he is a stand out.

What do you hope to see from the new South Australian State Government?
Well, I think it’s important that the South Australian Government continues to work on making South Australia ever more attractive to investors. I think that should be and will be a very important priority for them. They obviously will have to work hard on improving the energy supply situation in South Australia, that has been a challenge for the State. There needs to be a stable base load power and that has proved unstable in recent times so more work has to be done on that. I think the people of South Australia have decided that after sixteen years of one party in government, its time to give another party a chance. The challenge is up there for Steven Marshall and his team.

What is next for you, High Commissioner?
Travelling between South Australia and London.  I look forward to spending a lot of my time back in South Australia, I have a beach house at Carrickalinga, South of Adelaide and will look to do some Directorships and things like that back. I also plan to spend some time over here in the UK, we have a place in Kensington, so I have some jobs that I will be doing over here as well.

We would like to thank the outgoing High Commissioner for his ongoing support to the Office of the Agent General and hope to see him sometime soon in our favourite place – South Australia.