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Adventures in the capital

Gemma is a current GLP student studying psychology. Recently she was a delegate on the Global Leadership Program’s domestic symposium to Canberra. This symposium involved a visit to Parliament House for Question Time, an evening with the High Commissioner of Pakistan in his diplomatic residence and numerous opportunities to explore the culture and socio-political issues of Australia.

Dear fellow GLPers,

I assume you’re reading this blog because you share that same character flaw as me: you actually enjoy politics! It’s a devastating sickness but we live through it, don’t we? Anyway, enough of that. Let me set the scene for you.

It’s a crisp, pleasant morning – as pleasant as 7am can be anyway – and us delegates are waiting for our coach inside a foyer. I won’t lie, we were a little awkward at first, wondering who would be first to break the ice. It really didn’t take long though. We soon realised we were in excellent company!

We departed anon and – despite intensely missing our beds – we were all very much excited! We could not shake the feeling that we were on the threshold of an experience that we would remember for a lifetime!

Our first stop was Parliament House. We were shown around by a rather quirky Austrian tour guide, who claimed he could make the Flag atop the House wave, by activating a certain tile – we applauded and expressed wonderment in such sorcery.

Inside Parliament House

We then sat in on Question Time, which was a real treat! The passion and tension in that room was palpable. And we had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of witnessing a tremendous moment in Australian politics: the Labor Party’s vote of no-confidence in the Speaker, a political climax the Parliament had been working up to for some time. The motion failed – so I suppose it’s not quite worth bragging to the grandkids about – but it was a cool event to be part of.

Next we headed off to the U.S. Embassy. We got so much out of it, not the least of which was a selfie with the ambassadors themselves! We were so inspired by their warmth and openness, and everything that their position required of them.

They told us a story about having to moderate a meeting between a domestic abuse victim and a reformed domestic abuser, and how the latter made a few too many tasteless jokes. They explained that despite how aghast they were over the disrespect that was being shown, as an ambassador, it is their duty to keep a straight face. It’s their duty to honour people they don’t even like, to let them tell their stories, and to listen, no matter how ignorant or offensive they found the story. I thought this was a really great anecdote, because it neatly summed up the virtues of a global leader (See what I did there? Global leader…ship program?)

On the second day, we dined at the house of the High Commissioner for Pakistan (I never get tired of saying that sentence!). The High Commissioner was very enthusiastic about the bright future he saw between our two countries: strong relations and exchange of knowledge. We were all quite touched by this. However, when he spoke about his desire to boost the live animal trade between Pakistan and Australia, I was deeply grieved. I felt this was a very sensitive issue, and not necessarily in the best interests of either country.

Meeting with the High Commissioner of Pakistan in his diplomatic residence

It hit me then how hard it must actually be for a government to represent a country. I mean, a country is not a homogeneous mass of people with the exact same values, attitudes and needs…a country is a complex entity, composed of many different voices and visions. It’s hard to make everyone happy, so sometimes it is worthwhile putting our swords down and showing appreciation for all our politicians do for us.

The trip also featured an amazing cultural component, including trips to the National Film & Sound Archive, and the Australian War Memorial. Now, I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking, “How can that be, when the closest things Australians have to culture are budgy smugglers and oversized fruit?” – And no one’s proud of those!

All the delegates in front of the Australian War Memorial

Well, I think this trip opened a lot of eyes to everything our country does have to offer – whether it’s watching, dumbfounded, as a mother mixes Vegemite into her baby’s formula, in a post-WWII commercial, or if it’s being touched by the sacrifices of our diggers: “He insisted on being left behind in the hope of being able to save the lives of others”. No matter how much Australians complain about our country (and we complain a lot!), we have so many blessings that we can delight in.

Now, if you’d told me last year that I was going to attend a politico-cultural symposium in Canberra , I would definitely not have believed you. But I’m really glad I did, because I’ve gained so much from the experience. So if there’s one thing I hope you take away from this story it’s that it’s worthwhile trying something different – because you never know when you’ll discover a new passion!

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