Richard Woolcott

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Richard Woolcott

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs
In office
Personal details
Richard Arthur Woolcott

(1927-06-11) 11 June 1927 (age 91)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Birgit Christensen
(m. 1952; died 2008)
ChildrenPeter, Robert and Anna
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
OccupationPublic servant, diplomat and author

Richard Arthur Woolcott AC (born 11 June 1927) is a retired Australian public servant, diplomat, author and commentator.

Early years[edit]

Woolcott was educated at Geelong Grammar School, Cranbrook School and the University of Melbourne, before becoming a member of the Australian Diplomatic Service.

Woolcott's first posting in the diplomatic service was as Third Secretary in the Australian Embassy Moscow.[1] Woolcott married Danish-born Birgit Christensen in London, England in July 1952 and the couple moved to Moscow shortly after the wedding.[2] During the posting which lasted until 1954, Joseph Stalin died in March 1953.

Later career[edit]

In 1967, Woolcott drafted a speech for Prime Minister Harold Holt that said Australia was geographically part of Asia and that it was "a basic tenet of our national policy to live in friendship and understanding with our Asian neighbours".[3] Between 1967 and 1970, Woolcott was Australian High Commissioner to Ghana. In the role, he regularly visited Ouagadougou, Nouakchott, Dakar, Libreville, Monrovia, Abidjan, Lomé, Conakry and Bamako.[4] From 1975 to 1978 he was Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia, at the time of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.[5] In a series of oft-cited and highly influential cables throughout his ambassadorship, he urged his country to take a 'pragmatic' or 'Kissingerian' approach to the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor, largely due to the importance of the Suharto regime to Australia's strategic and foreign policy goals and its relations with ASEAN and the region, although also informed by the under-sea oil resources that Australia was claiming close to Timor. Subsequently, Woolcott was appointed Australia's Ambassador to the Philippines (between 1978 and 1982).[6]

US cables leaked by Wikileaks reveal that Woolcott had been an informant to the US, providing consular officials with information of internal government processes during 1974.[7]

He was the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations from 1982 to 1988, and served as the President of the United Nations Security Council for Australia's term in November 1985. Woolcott also served as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the most senior diplomatic position in Australia, from 1988 to 1992.[8] As DFAT Secretary, he was involved in the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.[9][10] On 4 June 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Woolcott had been appointed as an envoy to conduct discussions to form a new Asian regional forum.[9]

Since 1997, Woolcott has been the Founding Director of the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre.

In 2003 Woolcott wrote a personal memoir entitled The Hot Seat: Reflections on Diplomacy from Stalin’s Death to the Bali Bombings,[11][12] and he also wrote a book called Undiplomatic Activities in 2007.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Richard Woolcott is a supporter of the Australian Republican Movement, and gave the Inaugural National Republican Lecture in 2003.[14]

Woolcott's wife of 56-years, Birgit, died from lung cancer in 2008.[15] The couple's son, Peter, is also a diplomat and has served as the ambassador to Italy.[9]

Awards and honours[edit]

For his services to diplomacy and international relations, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985,[16] and advanced to a Companion of the Order in 1993.[17]

In July 2008, Richard Woolcott was selected as one of the inaugural fellows of the Australian Institute of International Affairs to highlight his very high level of distinction in and distinguished contribution to Australia's international affairs. Also that year, Woolcott was awarded the Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop Asia Medal, in recognition of his contribution to Australia's relationships with Asia.[18]


  1. ^ Interview: Richard Woolcott AC Third Secretary,1952–54; Second, then First Secretary 1959–61; Australian Embassy Moscow, Australian Government, archived from the original on 11 February 2014
  2. ^ "Her Home's In Moscow Next Month". The Sunday Herald. 20 July 1952. p. 24.
  3. ^ Gray, Joanne (14 August 2015). "True Leaders 2015: Dick Woolcott has been preaching for Australia to engage with Asia since '60s". Australian Financial Review. Fairfax Media.
  4. ^ "Back from Ouagadougou". The Canberra Times. 7 August 1969. p. 3.
  5. ^ Juddery, Bruce (24 February 1977). "Ambassador criticised". The Canberra Times. p. 30.
  6. ^ Woolcott, Richard (8 March 2003). "What Australia lost in Timor". Archived from the original on 12 April 2013.
  7. ^ Embassy of the United States in Canberra, 14 January 1974, Wikileaks.
  8. ^ "Richard Woolcott and Mandyam Srinivasan". The Backyard. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 August 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  9. ^ a b c Maley, Paul (5 June 2008). "Old warhorse Richard Woolcott back in harness to smooth regional ties". The Australian. News Corp.
  10. ^ Zoellick, Robert (20 July 2010). "A Tribute to Richard Woolcott". Asia Society. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  11. ^ Woolcott, Richard (8 March 2008). "What Australia lost in Timor". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 15 March 2003.
  12. ^ HarperCollins (2008). The Hot Seat: Reflections on Diplomacy from Stalin’s Death to the Bali Bombings. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  13. ^ Scribe Publications (2008). Undiplomatic Activities. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  14. ^ "Away with the Anachronism: A Republic will serve Australia's Domestic and International Interests". Archived from the original on 15 August 2004. Retrieved 3 June 2015.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  15. ^ Basorie, Warief Djajanto (29 December 2010). "Richard Woolcott: An exemplary envoy". The Jakarta Post.
  16. ^ It's An Honour (2008). WOOLCOTT AO, Richard Arthur. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  17. ^ It's An Honour (2008). WOOLCOTT AC, Richard Arthur. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  18. ^ "Citation: Richard Woolcott AC" (PDF), Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop Asialink Medal, University of Melbourne, 2008, archived from the original (PDF) on 7 October 2016

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Stuart Harris
Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Succeeded by
Peter Wilenski
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Ryan
Australian High Commissioner to Ghana
Succeeded by
John McMillan
Preceded by
Robert Furlonger
Australian Ambassador to Indonesia
Succeeded by
Tom Critchley
Preceded by
Gerry Nutter
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines
Succeeded by
Roy Fernandez