Where diplomacy meets public policy

27 November 2018

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Professor Helen Sullivan is the Director of Crawford School of Public Policy.

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For Peta Compton, pairing diplomacy with advanced public policy learning is key to navigating contemporary policy challenges.

Peta returned to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra after a three year posting at the Australian Embassy in Brasilia. Keen to continue her work in public policy, she considered her next move.

“Being in Canberra between postings for the next few years presented an opportunity to complement my professional development with further academic learning,” Peta says.

“I plan to anchor my career to the public service, so Crawford was the obvious choice to consider new ways to anticipate and meet contemporary policy challenges.”

Peta is currently a policy officer in the UN and Commonwealth Section in DFAT. She works on advancing Australia’s national interests through its relationships with international organisations. Her time is spent negotiating with colleagues in DFAT and other agencies, making sure the policies developed or proposed reflect a whole-of-government position.

“This can range from a high-level candidature that Australia is supporting, to a resolution on decolonisation in the UN,” she explains.

“I also work closely with colleagues on the Commonwealth portfolio, through which we manage $7.2 million in development funding. This money supports a cross-section of Australian priorities, including countering violent extremism; education and training for girls in rural areas of our region; post-disaster mental health resilience and supporting developing countries to access international climate finance.”

Peta has enjoyed a diverse international career, including working in India after the attacks on Indian students in 2011, and in the Middle East while implementing Australia’s live animal exports system.

“This year, I led policy work on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, as well as coordinating Australia’s program during the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week in New York. My suitcase is looking a little worse for wear these days.”

Peta says key moments of her career include working for Australia in the UN Headquarters in New York earlier this year.

“This ticked a big career box for me – it was fascinating to see global leaders convening and promoting their world views,” she says.

She also enjoyed her posting in Brazil, managing the Australian Embassy’s public diplomacy program.

“I loved learning Portuguese and the depth that speaking a language fluently can add to your understanding of a culture. It was fantastic to see Australians compete in Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics and Paralympics in 2016, and to try to forge connections between these two ‘spiritually similar’ countries,” Peta says.

“I ran cultural and education events all over the country, from down south in Florianopolis to the middle of the Amazon in Manaus, and we always had great success attracting crowds. I’d like to think that some of my efforts led to more Brazilians coming to Australia for study or tourism.”

Joining Crawford School’s Executive Master of Public Policy (EMPP) program was a natural progression for Peta, who wants to pursue leadership roles in the public service.

“Decision-making responsibilities and accountability sharply increase as you progress through a career in the public service,” she says.

“I see the EMPP as an important avenue to understanding contemporary best practice in public policy making, supporting my leadership and decision-making skills.”

The course is designed and taught by world-class public policy scholars and is delivered through a mix of case-based, interactive and intensive modes of teaching. To ensure an executive-style learning environment, ANU limits student places in the EMPP.

Peta’s favourite unit was Leading and Influencing Public Policy, led by Professor Helen Sullivan.

“This was one of the best learning experiences I’ve undertaken,” she says. “I felt challenged and engaged by the course content, loved the exposure to high-profile guest speakers and am applying what I learned to my current role.”

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