Tim Stapleton - Third Secretary and Vice Consul, Australian Embassy in East Timor

Tim Stapleton
'Within the Embassy, I work with around 50 staff from five government departments. Around two thirds of them are Timorese. I particularly enjoy working with them and learning about their experiences.'

Tim began working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as a graduate trainee in 2006. Three months ago he was posted to Dili in East Timor to work as Third Secretary and Vice Consul at the Australian Embassy there. Tim graduated from the University of New South Wales in 2005 with majors in Accounting, Business Economics, Politics and International Relations, and Indonesian Studies. He studied bahasa Indonesia at university, which is still widely used in East Timor, and before arriving in Dili, he received six months intensive tuition in both Tetum and Portuguese – the official languages.

How did you feel when you first arrived in Dili? 

It was a mixture of excitement and relief. I was relieved that the months of preparation were finally behind me and excited about starting a new job in a new country. My fiancée and I were fortunate to arrive in November 2007 during a time of relative political stability. That said, when moving to a place like Dili, some level of culture shock is inevitable and we certainly weren’t immune from it. Apart from the adjustment to living in the poorest country in Asia, the reminders of East Timor’s violent, contemporary history (for example burnt-out buildings) take some getting used to. But we settled in quickly and are really enjoying the experience.

What is your work environment like in Dili?

While security can be challenging at times, overall the work environment is very rewarding and stimulating. The bilateral relationship is high profile and a high priority for both governments, which makes for significant interest in our work in both Australia and East Timor. I am in regular contact with members of parliament, government officials, UN personnel, local journalists, NGOs, Australian businesspeople, and church and community leaders. As Dili is a relatively small community, it is not uncommon to be rubbing shoulders with Ministers and Heads of State at functions or even just over lunch! Within the Embassy, I work with around 50 staff from five government departments. Around two thirds of them are Timorese. I particularly enjoy working with them and learning about their experiences.

What does your job involve?

My job is a mixed duties position, which involves balancing varied responsibilities in both the political and the consular/administration sections of the Embassy. These include: reporting on political and economic developments in East Timor; managing the Embassy’s public relations program; administering the Embassy’s computer systems; managing consular cases (assisting Australians in difficultly) and filling in as senior administrative officer, with overall responsibility for managing financial, administrative and consular issues and around 20 staff. It’s a challenge to prioritise sometimes but I’m really enjoying the diversity of the work.

What projects have you been involved in since you arrived?

I’ve covered developments in East Timor’s National Parliament, reported on major political and security issues and budget deliberations, and looked at East Timor’s economic prospects and the investment climate. I worked on preparations for both of Mr Rudd's visits to East Timor as Prime Minister and acted as note taker during his meetings with Timorese counterparts. I have assisted in organising a medical evacuation as part of my consular work. Through the Embassy’s public diplomacy program, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some inspiring people working at schools, orphanages and community centres. Most recently I’ve been reporting on the shocking attacks on East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

What do you like most about your job?

Covering political and economic developments in a country where political intrigue abounds and rumours spread quickly. I particularly enjoy getting out and meeting interesting and influential people, and using my language skills to find out about current developments.

What do you like least?

The main challenges of the job stem from operating in a developing country, where infrastructure and human capacity constraints mean that even routine tasks take much longer than expected.

Where else would you like to be posted?

Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Cairo, Lisbon, Jakarta, Kabul, Kuala Lumpur, London, Madrid, Moscow, Suva, New York, Santiago de Chile, Shanghai, Washington, Tokyo … I can’t think of many places I wouldn’t like to be posted to! DFAT officers are invited to preference up to eight postings that are advertised in biannual rounds and are encouraged to be flexible. I joined the Department hoping to learn Mandarin and live in Beijing but the lure of learning Portuguese and Tetum and moving to Asia’s newest nation proved too strong!

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