Journal: 9 March 1999

Autumn has officially started, though the weather has improved--lets hope it lasts for Katie's second jazz prom this weekend. We seem to be cramming a lot in before she disappears for three weeks next month to be artist-in-residence at Arthur Boyd's studio on the Shoalhaven River.

My last update was in mid-February on our way back from Melbourne. Since then we have been to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney again, with Adelaide tomorrow and Perth again on Sunday.

On our return to Canberra, it was off to a briefing and dinner with an all-party group of young Australian MPs who were going to London as part of a programme of political exchanges between the UK and Australia. They will be visiting Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as spending time in London, so should get an interesting impression of what's going on. Then a day-trip to Sydney to launch a new programme run by the British Council to promote the benefits for Australian graduates or undergraduates in going off to a British University. Malcolm Turnbull had agreed to do the launch with me, as an opportunity to demonstrate that being a Republican did not mean being anti-British (and he had done a post-graduate law degree at Oxford). We were joined by the author David Malouf and by a young medical scientist, Alison Chiu--who had done research in forensic dentistry using skulls at the Natural History Museum!

I posed the question at the launch: could anyone name the two Ministers in the British Government who were born in Australia, did their first degrees here, then studied in England and became British MPs? No-one could (see answer at the end of this journal!)

Next day we had John Spellar, the Defence Minister, in Canberra. He had been in Australia for a few days, first meeting up with friends and political contacts in Sydney and then going to the Avalon Airshow. I accompanied him on some of his calls in Canberra, seeing the Defence Minister and the Minister for Veterans Affairs among others, and we held a dinner for him that evening. He knows Australia well, and is fascinated with politics here--a fun guest. The next day he flew to Newcastle to see the British Aerospace factory where they will build Hawk fighters for the Royal Australian Airforce, while I flew to Melbourne for a reception and dinner for British exhibitors at the Avalon Airshow.

I went out to the Airshow the next day. Not something I'd usually be interested in, but the connection with British industry gives a focus. It's much easier to grasp the differences between types of fighter aircraft and attack helicopters if you can actually see them and ask questions on the spot. The British exhibitors ranged from big to small, and seemed pretty pleased with the reaction they were getting. Then at night came the flying display, which was pretty spectacular--including a marvelous 75-year-old American, who did stunts in a commercial plane with the engines turned off!

Katie joined me the next day, and we went off to the races again with a visiting British General, Sam Cowan, and his Australian counterpart, Des Mueller. Another succesful day, though it was General Sam who was the big winner.

Then to Perth on the Sunday. Thanks to the time difference, we got there in time for a late breakfast in the garden with friends--it's much warmer over there than it's been here--and a relaxing day. Off in the evening to the Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band, who were playing at the Perth Festival with support from the British Council. They were great, and had a really enthusiastic reception. We met up with Sir Charles Court, the former Premier of Western Australia (and whose son is the current premier): he had been a champion cornet player in his youth and had won a national championship playing the same solo that the Grimethorpe cornet player chose.

A couple of days in Perth seeing local businessmen (and women, including Janet Holmes a Court, who has big theatre interests in London). None of them seemed to see the advent of the Euro as a problem for their investments in Britain, which bore out the message I'd been getting in Melbourne and Sydney. In the evenings we went to another couple of Festival events, the English Theatre Company doing Anthony and Cleopatra, and an open-air showing of the film about Francis Bacon.

The time difference works the other way going back east, so it takes most of the day. We got back in time to host a reception for the Australia Britain Society, partly to help raise funds for Magna Carta Park, next to the old Parliament House. Then a few days in Canberra catching up with work that had piled up--and hosting a Friends of the Opera evening.

The next weekend we drove to the Southern Highlands (about 2 hours) to stay with Sir Arthur Weller, who had played a big role in funding the final stages of the construction of the replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour. The country round there is incredibly green--beef cattle country--and his house has marvellous views across a gorge and to the escarpment in the distance. He is planning the Endeavour's visit to Hawaii, where Captain Cook was killed, and I said I'd try to persuade Christopher Meyer, our Ambassador in Washington and an old Downing Street colleague, to attend.

Back to Canberra on Sunday for lunch with an academic from the Australian National University, Igor de Rachelwicz, who Katie had first met in Florence many years ago. He's one of the world experts on Ghengis Khan and Kublai Khan--not perhaps of immediate relevance to my present job, but fascinating nonetheless.

Some days then in Canberra, punctuated with British visitors and with a lunch with Norman Davies, who wrote the best-selling "Europe: A History." Then to Sydney to meet up with a Treasury colleague and accompany him to meetings with the Reserve Bank of Australia and with economists at the major banks. In the evening I was speaking at the launch of a business directory listing firms trading in Britain and Australia. The other main speaker was Mark Taylor, the recently-retired Australian cricket captain, who had literally come hot foot from playing for New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I knew my place, and spoke briefly so as to leave plenty of time for him--and it was worth it as he told a succession of anecdotes about playing cricket in and against England.

A pretty relaxing weekend, going to an open-air opera concert at a winery near Canberra and to the Black Opal Stakes at Canberra Race Course. Both Jon Cunliffe (the Treasury colleague) and Frank Berman (the Foreign Office chief legal adviser) came to stay on the Sunday night. Monday was spent at meetings in the Treasury and at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, before hosting a dinner for Frank Berman in the evening. It was good to do the rounds of Treasury and Bank connections again--mainly to talk about international finance--and to keep my hand in. The Australians had been concerned about the way the G7 seemed to be taking over discussions on the future of the international financial system, but I hope we managed to reassure them that we were looking for a wider process of consultation.

Today, a meeting of European Union ambassadors, followed by a lunch with Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister. Tonight, a reception for balloonists (here for the Canberra Balloon Festival) which should be rather different. The sight of up to 40 balloons drifting around Canberra in the early morning is wonderful.

The two Australian British Ministers are Patricia Hewitt and Ross Cranston.

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