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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » January 27, 2011
Australia in Poland
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Enamored With the Heart of Europe
January 27, 2011   
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Ruth Pearce, the Australian ambassador to Poland, talks to Jolanta Wolska.

Why did Australia and Poland both avoid recession during the global economic crisis?
Poland and Australia have accountable and relatively transparent financial/banking sectors. Also both governments responded quickly and effectively to limit and manage threats and risks. Poland’s relatively large domestic consumer economy was a key protector. Australia’s resource exports to our expanding Asia-Pacific region partners, especially China, underpinned our economic growth. Urbanization in China is huge and significantly built around Australian resources.

What is the state of relations between Australia and Poland, in your view?
Overall, they are positive, but there is still considerable potential for development. Our relations are based around shared international interests. For example, our respective involvement in NATO-led ISAF engagement in Afghanistan, our ministerial leadership on international disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation initiatives. We consult closely on climate change issues and EU reform proposals. We engage together on clean coal technology developments.

Poland is an important EU member, the biggest new EU member and the sixth biggest overall. It is in Brussels as well as Warsaw that we focus our mutual interests. Poland’s priorities for its first EU presidency will be an important dynamic. Australia has a Partnership Framework with the EU, with an ambitious agenda on a whole range of issues from education to research, climate change, common agricultural policy and business opportunities. We are both members of the Asia Europe Ministerial Group (ASEM). Engaging both Poland and the EU in our Asia-Pacific region—the 21st century is widely recognized as the Asia-Pacific century—is another priority for Australia and Poland.

The extent to which our cooperation will become more EU-focused, rather than bilateral, will be interesting. This is not just a Polish issue, it is a question everyone is asking around Europe. The EEAS priorities will be of interest to us all.

Could business relations between Poland and Australia be stronger?
Yes, and they are constantly growing. The focus is on investment. Poland is the biggest “new” EU member and the only EU economy not to fall into recession in 2009. Australian investors are increasingly engaged in Poland’s strategic sectors—infrastructure, clean energy and environment (we are both heavily coal-based economies), ICT, mining and resources and services. A recent example is the Australian Goodman Group’s successful tender for the development of the Pomeranian Logistics Center, adjacent to the Deepwater Container Terminal (DCT) in Gdańsk built by Macquarie Group Australia. It is the largest project in northern Poland and is intended to empower Poland as the regional hub, a profile promoted at the recent Shanghai Expo. In another example, in the clean coal sector, Industry Funds Management (IFM), an Australian fund, is a partner in two big bio-mass fueled power projects in ŁódĽ and Poznań. AMCOR is an Australian packaging business in ŁódĽ. As noted, we are developing partnership opportunities in the energy sector.

Are there specific challenges in being a woman diplomat?
When I joined the Diplomatic Service in the mid-1970s, we women were a rare species! Our first woman career ambassador was appointed in 1974. Now there are many more of us, even at the top—in both Poland’s and Australia’s Foreign Services, nearly 25 percent of ambassadorial appointments are now women. In the 1970s you would have had to discover a very courageous man willing to give up his career and lifestyle to follow a woman around the world! Now relationships and expectations are much more flexible.

Being a woman diplomat gives you a special profile. A woman diplomat in Bangladesh in the 1970s was a rarity and attracted lots of positive attention. But, as contrast, when I was ambassador to the Solomon Islands in the early 1990s, I spent a year waiting to be officially recognized by the prime minister, because he believed my government deliberately intended to offend him by sending a woman as its official representative!

When I was ambassador in Moscow in 1999, of 185 ambassadors, only eight of us were women. Again it provided an opportunity for a special profile—I was unusual. But it meant that I had to very carefully and cleverly prepare for each official appointment/event, and I quickly learnt never to be on the defensive. I can’t recall ever feeling that I was being dismissed or ignored because I was a woman. Being a woman diplomat means extra challenges but also wonderful opportunities.

Why did you choose to be ambassador to Poland?
Poland has an exceptional history. From the Land Down Under to the heart of Europe, Poland’s past and present are special attractions. We have a strong Polish-Australian community, which has significantly contributed to Australia’s unique success as a multicultural nation. I also viewed Poland from Russia and I had a very strong interest in engaging it from its own historical and contemporary identities, especially as the biggest new EU member. So I have many reasons to come to the heart of Europe. It is the best time to be here. Dynamic change and unique history, all together. And Polish people are warm and open and have a special interest in the Land Down Under.

What do you like about Poland?
Additional to the reasons why I chose Poland as my diplomatic appointment, the country is full of beautiful and contrasting places, from Gdańsk and Szczecin to Wrocław and Katowice; then Lublin to Żagań. Bydgoszcz is a special favorite, being both beautiful and because it has an Australian Fun Club. And close by is Toruń, a Gothic wonder with an Australian Studies Center. One could spend every weekend visiting beautiful Poland. And Poland has a dynamic cultural life. And then, being the heart of Europe, its neighbors provide further exotic travels.

What are your favorite places in Warsaw?
Warsaw is old and new, a special mix of history and culture. Żoliborz, my territory, offers the Citadel, the old military compound, one of the first socialist housing estates, and many tasty cafes. The Praga district across the Vistula River, with its mix of old and new, has the trendy Koneser vodka factory and avant-garde galleries next to old Soviet-style cafes. And then there are the uniquely beautiful parks, especially Łazienki. My many guests from all over the world love the parks. And the Old and New Towns with the wonderful mix of new cafes and galleries next door to historical buildings that convey Warsaw’s unique history—the new and old living together.

What are your favorite Polish dishes?
Pierogi in all its many varieties. And mushrooms. We have tasty field mushrooms in Australia but not the variety of shapes and colors of Polish mushrooms. Bigos is delicious, a real surprise that cabbage can taste so good. And of course Polish cakes must be the best in the world. Especially poppy-seed cakes.
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