Australia’s new ambassador for women and girls says she’ll be “frank and fearless” in her advice to the government, despite hailing from the other side of the political fence.
Former Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja is taking up the role, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop announced in Sydney on Monday.
Despite their political differences, Bishop praised Despoja, saying she was “eminently qualified for the role” and “stands on her own merit”.
Stott Despoja described the role as her “dream job”.
The former South Australian senator will be based in Adelaide but her new job entails promoting greater economic, educational and leadership opportunities for women and girls throughout the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
On her first day on the job she sets off with Ms Bishop and Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek on a tour to promote the employment of women in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Nauru.
Stott Despoja said she hoped to visit Nauru’s offshore detention centre, where pregnant women were reportedly being detained, and wouldn’t be afraid to offer “advocacy and advice to the minister” on behalf of women and children in the facility.
“As the ambassador, of course it’s an interest of mine now to look at women and girls and specifically pregnant women,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity to go and see firsthand for myself.”
The Abbott government has collapsed AusAid into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and cut the aid budget by $4.5 billion over the next four years.
Stott Despoja, who will have influence over the direction of aid policy, said it was not her job to comment on “the specific political changes”.
“I’ll be advocating … for as much aid spending that will assist women and girls in our region and beyond,” she said.
“So my role is … ensuring we maximise the use of the funding that is already allocated.”
Stott Despoja will replace career diplomat Penny Williams, who was appointed as the first women and girls ambassador by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2011.
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