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After a successful career in the investment banking sector, Alastair J M Walton moved into diplomacy in 2015. Having previously worked as a banker in various global financial centres, Alastair is now the Consul-General of Australia in New York.
Alastair discusses his background, diplomatic responsibilities as Consul-General, and how student politics at ANU shaped his career.
Q. What are your primary responsibilities as the Australian Consul-General in New York?
I am responsible for representing Australia and our national interests across 12 states and territories in the Northeastern United States. The combined Gross State Product of this jurisdiction is just over USD 5 trillion, which is larger than the economy of Germany and around four times that of Australia.
I think of the Consulate’s operations as being split into retail and wholesale.
On the “retail” side, the New York Consulate-General is the fourth-largest issuer of Australian passports outside Australia, reflecting the large number of Australians based in our jurisdiction. Furthermore, we are responsible for “consular cases”, which includes deaths, incarcerations and missing persons.
On the “wholesale” side, we have a hard-working and highly professional public diplomacy team that covers a vast range of activities. This team is responsible for various outreach efforts in the business and investment sector as well as in the world of arts, theatre, film and sports. The team is also critical in maintaining congressional liaison and military relationships, which includes our flagship ANZAC Day event each year.
ANU had a profound effect on my professional career...the University taught me the field of economics, which has been enormously instrumental in my career.
Q. As the Australian Consul-General in New York, what does an average day look like?
My schedule is enormously varied, reflecting the multiple verticals that we touch. A day typically begins with meeting a global business leader, having lunch with a political representative and ends with visiting one of the many Australian business owners in my consular jurisdiction.
We often host senior representatives from the Australian Government who are visiting New York, such as the Prime Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. We also regularly host other high-level visitors, such as Australian CEOs on roadshows, superannuation funds meeting with New York-based investment managers and not-for-profit organisations seeking a presence in New York.
During my tenure as the Consul-General to New York, I have had several memorable highlights. These include ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, hosting an ANZAC Day lunch that raised over USD 1 million for the American-Australian Veterans’ Scholarship Program and visiting both the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. I even had the honour of spending two days on a nuclear-powered Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, while it was undertaking training exercises prior to its next deployment.
Q. After a successful career in investment banking, you moved into diplomacy. What led you to make that change in your career?
I had a rewarding career working in the investment banking sector. I had worked at various global financial centres across the world in New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. My father had shifted from private to public sector in his career. He had had a strong business background prior to joining Austrade, where he was Australian Consul-General and Senior Trade Commissioner in Milan, Italy.
After I left the banking sector in 2015, I became the inaugural Australian Consul-General and Senior Trade Commissioner in Houston, Texas. It was an opportunity to establish a new diplomatic post on behalf of Austrade in Houston, a challenge that I relished.
Additionally, having had a successful private sector career I wanted to give something back to my country. Representing Australia, both in Texas and now in New York, has been the highlight of my professional life.
Q. How did your degree in economics at ANU prepare you for your career?
ANU had a profound effect on my professional career. First of all, the University taught me the field of economics, which has been enormously instrumental in my career. After graduating, I have enjoyed giving back by giving lectures at the ANU College of Business and Economics every two years or so. All of these have economics at their core.
Secondly, I was involved in student politics at ANU and established the ANU Liberal Society. The interplay between policymaking and economic outcomes has always interested me. The relationships I developed through student politics were very helpful in my career, as a number of my fellow students went on to become Cabinet Ministers and even the Prime Minister.
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