Foreign Policy in Action – Meet Sheena Graham

Foreign Policy in Action – Meet Sheena Graham


The best thing about my job is you’re only
limited by your imagination. My name is Sheena Graham. I am a Ngadju woman from Western Australia. When I was in high school, I planned to finish
year 12. That was seen as a big step because not many
of our family had finished year 12, so I was like, well, that’s not going to stop me. But I became a single parent and I had to
wait until my son was older and started school before I could go to university. But I heard about the Institute of Koorie
Education at Deakin University. So, they fly Indigenous students in from right
around Australia and the Torres Strait to study block releases and they give you intensive
support while you study at home. I did my degree and I thought I’d apply for
some graduate opportunities here in Canberra, because I thought Canberra’s where politics
happens and my degree in political science was really interesting to me, so I wanted
to do it day-by-day. When I was in AusAID I got to experience all
this knowledge and experience from the overseas aid program in communities in the Pacific
where they were going through issues that my family was experiencing back in WA. So I got to see first-hand how other communities
grappled with similar challenges and how government used its policies and programs to help enable. The value of having Indigenous Australians
working on the aid program helps bring that lived experience. Where in foreign policy can Australia push
the global agenda in a way where we have our own strengths? And it was pretty clear that economic development
is one of our greatest stories to tell because, domestically, the Department of Prime Minister
and Cabinet was really energising and building the Indigenous business sector in Australia,
recognising that by enabling communities not just to set their own development, but to
help them to use their business to fund their development and be independent of government,
that was working quite well and was working well in the aid program. So it made sense to me when the delegation
went to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, it was to
go and convince other states that it was worth investigating what can the UN do to help enable
Indigenous peoples to set their own economic development priorities. So with the foreign policy, it was really
just me and a friend sitting down with a whiteboard mapping out where can Australia add value
to global policy? In Canberra, helping people realise that Australia,
yes, we have our challenges, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking our strengths overseas
and sharing our lessons with other countries and other governments.

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