Simon Newnham (1999 – 2000)
International Relations and Diplomacy
Before joining Government House I was a solicitor at a Melbourne law firm. I had finished my degree in 1997, travelled around Australia and internationally in 1998 and completed my Articles of Clerkship at the firm in 1999. At that stage, I had no interest in leaving the firm, my first ever grown-up, full-time job. And I had never heard about the role of an Aide to the Governor of Victoria. But a friend of mine had been employed as an Aide, told me they had a vacancy and recommended I apply. Things went my way and I secured the role, starting in August 1999.
I joined the Office of the Governor for a one year term, working as an Aide for the then Governor of Victoria, Sir James Gobbo AC, CVO QC. It was an amazing year and remains one of the highlights of my professional career. It gave me insights into the major public policy, economic and trade interests and community issues faced by the State of Victoria. It made me aware of the array of wonderful community and not-for-profit groups and their often unheralded, crucial community service work – both in metropolitan and rural Victoria. It allowed me to learn from, support and work closely with a very impressive, honourable public figure and statesman. It taught me valuable organisational, representational and policy development skills. And finally, I got to meet Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, which was both exciting but also made my Grandma very proud!
There is barely a day goes by in my professional career where I don’t draw from the skills and experience I developed as an Aide to the Governor of Victoria. I would strongly recommend it to those interested in public policy, community service, and understanding of the major issues facing the State and nation and the opportunity to support and be a part of public office.
I learned how to plan and execute the role of the Governor in a range of events. These ranged from key note speeches at mass gatherings, awards ceremonies, public events such as ANZAC Day and sporting events, touring industrial and services sector plants, including export award winning companies, engaging international visitors, attending policy dialogues, planning and attending visits to regional Victoria and attending specialised events to highlight the work of community, charity and NGOs.
I learned how to be the conduit between stakeholders and the Office of the Governor. This required a great deal of on-the-job learning about protocol, but also the particular style, interests and preferences of the Governor. I learned how to engage with a wide range of people, from a wide range of backgrounds. I got better at responding to last-minute changes to programs, or mishaps, in a calm and measured way. I developed my speech writing and research capabilities. And it was important that I was able to work in small teams that were, at times, under acute pressures.
After I left Government House I returned to the same law firm for another year or so. But all the while I kept thinking about what I’d experienced and learned working in the Office of the Governor. I felt that, at some level, it had been like I had worked for an Ambassador for Victoria – someone who was 100% committed to the interests of the State, and to representing that State in national and international engagements.
It was about that time that I applied to join the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade –Australia’s foreign service. I was successful, joined in 2003 and have been with the Department ever since. I have served Australia at two overseas postings: in Geneva, Switzerland and in Washington DC in the United States. Since then I have also served as Ambassador for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) for three years. Trade policy has been a major policy focus of mine through these roles. I am currently the Chief Legal Officer, overseeing a team that works on Australian international legal and strategic policy interests. Looking back, it was the combination of my university studies, my early legal practice, and especially my role as Aide to the Governor, that collectively lead to the focus of my career. I will forever be grateful for having had the opportunity, and the privilege, to serve in the role as Aide to the Governor of Victoria.