Text and photo: Alexander Kokkedal
Diplomacy and Culture
On April 27th, the now former Australian ambassador to Denmark, Damien Miller, made a presentation in Ungdomspolitisk Hus on Kastetvej 24 about Australia with the focus being on the country’s immigration policy – this presentation being arranged by Frit Forum, one of the several youth political organizations to be found in the complex.
Miller had been the appointed ambassador to Denmark since April 1st, 2013 and could after four years of service return to Australia in May 2017. Having an aboriginal father, Miller is the first Indigenous Australian to ever be the head of a diplomatic mission, paving the way for greater diversity in choice of diplomatic representatives.
Australia’s identity today as a multicultural society can be attributed to the country’s history with its initial all-Aboriginal population having lived on the landmass for several thousand years, then the establishing of British settlements during the Colonial period of the late 1700’s, and finally the shift to modern Australia where the Anglo-Saxon and Aboriginal cultures now co-exist.
It was by referring to this history that Damien Miller over the course of two hours could present an image of Australia as a very welcoming country while emphasizing its strictness that people come to the country through official means and not – as has been the case with refugees – take the hazardous trip across the Indian Ocean – explaining the general mindset behind the ‘No Way’-ads, an example of which features an Australian general in a military uniform warning illegal immigrants not to come to Australia, and that they should not believe what people smugglers tell them about Australia. The ads have garnered some attention internationally.
Prior to the presentation itself, Agenda had the opportunity to interview Miller about the job as an ambassador and how he perceives Danish society when compared with Australian society, which you can read about in the following.
Australia as an Immigration Society
For many Europeans, the primary exposure to Australia as a country comes through TV-shows like The Flying Doctors, Master Chef, or through nature documentaries about dangerous animals, but a whole other thing is looking at the different cultures present in Australia – a lot of which have their origin in people coming in from overseas.
When asked to comment on differences between Australian and Danish immigration policies, Damien Miller alludes to that fact: “I think one of the biggest differences is that Australia is what we call an immigration society, so we have actually for quite a long time been working very hard to bring in a lot of immigrants to our country.”
Australia takes in 190.000 permanent migrants every year and strives to give said migrants a proper entry into Australian society. “That is a lot of the immigrants every year, and that means a lot of new people in our country, which we think is wonderful, and we then have to integrate them into our society and make them feel welcome, make them feel that they’re part of Australia’s story,” Miller says.
It is not entirely coincidental who ends up getting to stay in the country, as Australia through its immigration policy also strives to take in the most skilled. “We have a very big country in landmass and we need to populate our country, and we want to choose who comes into our country, so we are careful about who comes in. We try to bring in as many skilled migrants as possible, and we have a point system which was developed in Australia,” Miller explains.
Praise for Denmark
Denmark and Australia are on opposite sides of the world. Geographically, Australia is right below Asia and with quite a long distance to either the US or Europe. In terms of culture, the similarities are apparent, and Damien Miller comments that Denmark and Australia have a common interest in promoting free trade, providing international security and fighting terrorism.
Miller also has a lot to praise about Denmark, and although he prefers not to mention any particular Danish policies, he finds certain aspects of Danish society very appealing: “I think the whole free speech political discussion culture you have here is very strong, your modern welfare society and your focus on innovation are the three things which really stand out for me.”
On the topic of Denmark’s welfare, Miller comments on the various services provided the individual citizen: “I admire your modern welfare state. I actually find it quite remarkable the way you’re able to have a very well-functioning welfare state. And the way you care for your children: to be able to get childcare support and have young mothers who can then go back to work. Through your education system, your health system, and even age care.”
As mentioned, securing free trade is a crucial interest shared between the two countries, and Miller thinks very highly of Danish innovation and its expansion overseas: “You’ve got so many companies that are doing some remarkable things. Small companies like Zendesk for example which is doing great sorts of software solutions, and they’ve now set up in Australia as well.”
The Role of the Ambassador
The appointment of Damien Miller with his Aboriginal heritage to be an ambassador is an example of the shift towards more diversity when it comes to who gets to represent their nation in diplomatic contexts.
Miller himself is pleased with the greater variety. “I think in the old days, ambassadors were unfortunately mainly old men. Now we’re seeing a lot more diversity. We’re seeing a lot of women as ambassadors, which is wonderful. We’re seeing a lot of younger people coming through to be ambassadors, a lot more diversity in people’s backgrounds,” he says.
The job itself requires a lot of different things from the diplomate, who has to market their country and its interests to the country that they’re ambassador to while also paying close attention to what goes on in the latter.
“The first part of the job is about advocacy, and the other part is really about listening, and observing, and watching what’s happening in Danish society in politics and your economy and then trying to help the Australian government to better understand what’s going on here, where we can work together, and where there might be some differences between us,” Miller explains.
Naturally, being the Australian ambassador to Denmark, Damien Miller has also met with the Danish royal couple on several occasions – Crown Princess Mary being from Australia herself.
“I’m very proud of her,” Miller admits. “Many Australians have said that they are very proud of her, and I think we are all very impressed by her role here in Denmark and all of the good things she does in Danish society, but also abroad: she’s a very strong advocate for women, she supports many great charities, she does a lot of wonderful work with children. I think the Australian community know all these things and they think it’s fantastic.”
The Benefits of Broadening One’s Horizons
Australia is a country which like so many other countries derives part of its strength from the exchanging of ideas across borders. In higher academia, this becomes plainly apparent when looking at the numerous programs in Australia enabling the exchange of students between the universities of different countries.
“There’s just so many links between our academics. Students are coming from Aalborg down to Australia, and some Australian students are coming up here, so that’s a really great thing. And it means that there is a whole new generation of people that are getting to discover each other’s country,” Miller mentions.
He firmly believes that there is a lot to be gained for the individual person to take the opportunity to explore a different country at some point in their life.
“I just think it’s good for anyone to broaden their horizons, so I always encourage anyone if they get the opportunity to go overseas and work to do it,” Miller mentions. “I think there is a lot of interest in Denmark in Australia, and I always encourage people: if you want to take an exchange, think about something like Australia.”
He emphasizes that travelling is a healthy and good thing to do, and that actually visiting a different culture and its people gives you a greater insight than you would gain through the media alone. “I think in our world at the moment that’s what we need more than anything: for people to understand each other and have a better sense that we’re all in this together,” Miller says.
The End of a Remarkable Journey
The interview is just a few weeks prior to Damien Miller leaving for Australia again, having served as the ambassador to Denmark for four years.
He describes his time in Denmark as a remarkable journey, having a fascination with Scandinavia and Denmark in particular and growing up with the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.
“There’s all these little things you kind of know about Denmark, and it’s just been great to kind of learn a lot more about Denmark and Nordic societies as well,” he says.
It will not be easy to turn the key and head back to Australia again, as Denmark has left Miller with some fond memories and introduced him to some good people.
“It’s really with some genuine sadness that I’ll be leaving here, and I’ve made some great friends and learned a lot about a different society, and even though I said before there’s so much we have in common there are lots of little differences, and I think that’s what is so exciting about being a diplomate,” Miller confesses. “You get the opportunity to explore all these differences, and you get to meet so many different people all across the country, and I find that very exciting.”