Frances Adamson farewell speech

  • Speech
Subject: Farewell speech to Frances Adamson

Marise Payne:

Thank you Ian and let me acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today here in Canberra, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I know there will be a formal acknowledgement, which I fully expect the Secretary to do when she has an opportunity to make her own remarks, and we are very familiar with that.

Ladies and gentlemen, there's been much that is so reassuring over the last few years to have been able to turn, or text, and seek the advice of the former national adviser to Prime Minister Turnbull, and the now Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. To know that her quiet, but assured and confident voice, would give vital perspective on the issues of the day - a number of which have become the issues at our time – I will most certainly miss that. But, as the Prime Minister said, our loss is South Australia's gain.

Your Excellencies, Parliamentary colleagues, Secretaries, distinguished guests, one and all, I think it is fairly rough to ask for the Minister to follow the Prime Minister in the order of speeches. Precedents I get; speeches is unfair. And I want to acknowledge and thank the Prime Minister very much for his remarks tonight. There is no question in my mind, Frances, where he'd rather be. And it's DFAT at the Atrium.

Your presence here, ladies and gentlemen, your support for this celebration - because that is what it is; it is a celebration of more than three-and-a-half decades of distinguished public service to our nation and to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - is a most assured testament of the respect and the regard in which Frances Adamson is held. I absolutely assure you that that is warmly shared by my parliamentary colleagues across the broadest political spectrum. We all applaud her.

In the past few weeks, we have had the occasional opportunity to acknowledge Frances, including in that most robust of environments, the Estimates Forum. A sometimes tetchy Estimates Committee came together to indeed make that acknowledgement, and it was with great pride that I listened to the comments of senators in relation to Frances' service. I suspect – in fact I'm confident – that that's one thing Frances might not miss. [Laughter]

After her 15 rounds of Estimates over the last years as Secretary of the Department, I do, however, understand, as the result of a serendipitous meeting at the National Press Club today, that your daughter, Sophie, has become an inveterate watcher of Estimates. So there's two things about that. First of all, I'll need some legal analysis to know whether that's a breach of the Geneva Convention against torture and, secondly, I'm most concerned that it could be a hard habit to break. She might keep watching after you've gone. I note, given a few of your predecessors are here, Frances, that not all of your male predecessors fronted at Estimates for said examination over the years of your service. Hashtag just saying. [Laughter]

Frances, your team – all 6000 or so of them – whether here or in our most far flung posts, have, I am absolutely confident, benefitted greatly from your commitment to them, your recognition of the absolutely vital contribution that they make to Australia and to Australia's place in the world. There is no doubt that we ask a lot, the Secretary asks a lot, the Government asks a lot of that team, and never more so than at the critical time of a pandemic. I want to thank you for your calm leadership in difficult times, and what you and DFAT have done under your leadership to support Australia and to advise your Government.

Frances and I have shared a great deal in a relatively short time – just over the last few years – and I have valued, particularly her advice, her integrity, her leadership so very much. I valued your preparedness, Frances, even before I knew you well, to have come up to the Hill as an advisor during your career on more than one occasion. What I particularly value is your strong comments at Estimates, encouraging others to do the same. It is a deeply important way to build knowledge, and relationships, and awareness, and I can't think of a better way to do it. So, I thank you for your leadership in that regard as well.

I've valued, greatly, your insights. I've valued your sharing of stories - like your ability to say no to The Pez when he calls, right as family dinner is served. Not once, apparently. I've valued your deep commitment to your family – and it's very special, Rod, to see you here tonight, to have met Sophie today. But let me acknowledge all of your children, your parents, your siblings, and of course, Alfie, the star of Secretary's snapshot from time to time.

As we celebrate you tonight - and I absolutely want to reinforce that this, ladies and gentlemen, is a celebration of an amazing Australian leader and an amazing Australian woman - we want to congratulate you as well on your next role, perhaps a whole new version of Your Excellency from diplomatic to gubernatorial, indeed. I know that you will serve South Australia well, and I know that you will be a superb Governor.

Today, at the National Press Club Frances said … a lot, but let me choose one observation – and that was one of the best Q&A's I've ever seen in my life. She said that DFAT officers are the sharp eyes, the attuned ears and the influential voice of Australia overseas. If I'd spent a lot of time searching for a perfect description, I probably wouldn't have been able to make it as perfect as Australia's Chief Diplomat, but I think it's an exceptional description. And you, Frances, every step of the way, have led from the front. You've delivered all that and more and that's why this is such a worthy celebration. For your leadership, for ensuring that those following can be what they can see in you, in running a 36-year masterclass in diplomacy, thank you very much Frances Adamson, and congratulations.


Media enquiries