Australia’s Ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, said in an interview on Monday that “the pandemic has thrown up a whole series of issues” very different to the ones he had imagined his role would involve.
Speaking to Matthew Knott from The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Sinodinos described how when he first arrived in the US at the start of February, Australians were still consumed by the bushfires that had ravaged the country throughout summer.
His first official duty as ambassador was to visit Dulles Airport in Virginia to meet a widow who had returned with the coffin of one of the three American firefighters who had died fighting the blazes.
“Our focus then was how to get tourism back and to tell Americans that Australia was open for business again,” Mr Sinodinos said.
A month later, the coronavirus was sweeping rapidly across the US and Mr Sinodinos said instead of navigating big picture geopolitics, he has now been focused on the nitty gritty of consular support.
“It has been a bit of a baptism of fire. When I was preparing to take on the job, I was thinking about how to promote trade and economic links, how Australia fits into the US-China debate,” he said.
“Then the virus erupts and we’re thrown into the deep end of helping Australians who want to get home, giving advice to people who are staying in the US, dealing with Australians who are caught on cruise ships and can’t get off.”
Fortunately, when the outbreak is under control, Mr Sinodinos is looking forward to slowing the pace a little and travelling outside the Washington beltway, including to manufacturing hubs in the US Midwest.
“One of the pieces of advice I got before coming here was to see the rest of the country and understand the political dynamics across the country. When the opportunity arises again, I’m very keen to do that,” he explained.
For now though, having overcome non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year, the 63-year-old knows it is especially important for him to practise physical distancing.
“Because I’ve had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, my immunity has been affected. It does weigh on your mind,” he said.
Mr Sinodinos has been forced to hunker down in his residence, using phone calls and video-conferencing sessions to build connections with the Trump administration.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.