Life On The Job

Ambassador - Peter Heyward

His Excellency Peter Heyward, BA 1979 [UTAS]; and a Graduate Certificate in Management from Monash University.

Peter Heyward

Mr Peter Heyward was the Ambassador to Timor Leste from January 2008 to February 2011. He was also formerly Australia’s Ambassador to Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

He was High Commissioner to Pakistan, and was a career diplomat of 25 years.

Other overseas service has included serving as Counsellor, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva (2000-2002) and as First Secretary, later Counsellor, in Buenos Aires (1993-1996).

In Canberra, Mr Heyward has held a range of positions including Assistant Secretary, Environment Branch in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2002-04), Director, Human Rights and Indigenous Issues Section (1998-2000) and Director, Refugees, Immigration and Asylum Section (1996‑98). He has also worked in the Climate Change and Biodiversity Section (1991-92) and the Antarctic Section (1989-91). Mr Heyward was born in Brighton, UK in 1955, he holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tasmania and speaks Portuguese and Spanish. (Source: University of NSW)

The following information is taken directly from the University of Tasmania. At the time of writing he was in Pakistan, his fifth posting and third as Head of Mission. His story tells how he came to be a diplomat.


"Unlike many of my diplomatic colleagues, I did not join the foreign service straight out of university.

My career path shows there is more than one way to get into the fascinating profession.

While it was not by design, the University of Tasmania prepared me very well for diplomacy. My course was classic liberal arts and I revelled in the intellectual freedom it gave me to explore not only the ideas that shape the world but the historical and social contexts in which they are developed. The perspectives I gained still inform my life and work. And importantly Philosophy, in which I majored, gave me the practical skills in the formation, advocacy and defence of negotiating positions, and in understanding the positions of others, that are the bread and butter of my profession. I also think studying in Hobart was important as the role of the University in that small-scale local environment gave me insights into the way a society, economy and polity functions that I have drawn on all my life and that I suspect I would not have found had I studied in a bigger state or city.

But when it came to the first steps towards a diplomatic career I faltered. On graduation I applied for a position as a trainee diplomat. I was flown to Melbourne and interviewed by a rather daunting panel of learned looking gentlemen (I think they were all gentlemen). But I made it no further than that. I have never sought the report of that interview, but I suspect the beginning of my downfall was my confident assertion (based on undergraduate study of the impacts and aftermath of colonialism) that the Commonwealth’s value was limited and its days numbered, which was not then, and is not now, the Australian Government’s view.

I joined the Public Service anyway, but not the Department of Foreign Affairs, nor, although I was offered it, as a graduate trainee in the heart of the bureaucracy in Canberra. Rather I stayed in Hobart as I had recently married and we had just committed to buying a house in which to start our family. So I began my working life as a personnel clerk in the Hobart branch of the Department of Transport. Amongst those for whom I was responsible were the lighthouse keepers who then manned the lights around the Tasmania coast as well as those who were busy converting these lighthouses to unmanned operations.

Australian Antarctic Division
Australian Antarctic Division, Headquarters, Kingston Tasmania


While it got me started in the workforce, this was not how I envisaged spending the rest of my life, so when the opportunity arose to join Australia’s Antarctic Headquarters when it moved to Hobart from Melbourne, I took it. I became part of a multi-disciplinary organisation involving administrators, scientists, logisticians, technicians and many others in the new purpose-built Antarctic Division complex in Kingston. I started in personnel, recruiting people for the yearly expeditions to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic. While I enjoyed this role, I was keen to also get engaged in policy development for Australia’s Antarctic operations as this function gradually moved from Canberra to Kingston. This was work in which I could draw more effectively on the skills I had gained in my studies at the University of Tasmania.

I also began to re-establish links with the University of Tasmania which, apart from playing hockey with the Uni club, had drifted since graduation. There was already collaboration between scientists at the Antarctic Division and the University of Tasmania but proximity enabled more partnerships to be formed and for engagement to expand into management of the science program and operational policy. At around the same time, the Secretariat of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established in Hobart to service its annual meetings, and the CSIRO’s Marine Science Laboratories were opened in Battery Point. Around these organisations began to coalesce the network of Antarctic bodies and activities that is now an established part of the Hobart scene. I formed many productive relationships through this network, some of which are still strong today. The University of Tasmania has always played a key role, strengthened now through its Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

I worked throughout the 80s with the Antarctic Division. As well as enjoying the operational side of the Division’s work and several trips to the Antarctic managing logistics and doing field work, I became increasingly deeply involved in its international policy work. This focussed on CCAMLR and the Antarctic Treaty system, and the application of international environment treaties to the Antarctic. A high point was my first overseas diplomatic meeting, the 1987 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Rio de Janeiro (in Brazil, a country in which I was later to serve as Australia’s Ambassador). It was my first real engagement with Australian diplomats. They led and managed the delegation in which my role focused on environmental protection and management of Antarctic operations. I loved the experience and it reignited my interest in diplomatic work.

Things then came together in my favour. Environmental issues were becoming increasingly important in international diplomacy with the seminal UN Conference on Environment and Development, the “Earth Summit”, soon to be held in Rio. Our foreign service needed expertise in this area quickly and the diplomats I had worked with on Antarctic issues knew me and my experience so I was asked if I would like to be seconded to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was a big change for me and my young family, constituting our first break with Tasmania, family and friends, but a great opportunity which we accepted with little hesitation.

We moved to Canberra and the secondment turned into a new career for me as a diplomat. I worked on international environment issues for several years before going on my first overseas posting, to Buenos Aires, beginning an ongoing association with Latin America. On return to Canberra, after a stint on refugee issues, I began working on human rights, which I continued through my second posting, as Australia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. I then returned to international environment work in Canberra for a few years before my first appointment as an Ambassador, to Brazil. This was followed by three years in the very different environment of Timor-Leste, time in Canberra managing consular operations and Australia’s relations with Africa, and then to Pakistan where I am now in my third year as High Commissioner.

Did You Know?

Ambassador back home

Mercury 22 September 2013

Lethal streets of Islamabad a world away for High Commissioner to Pakistan

HIGH Commissioner to Pakistan Peter Heyward says visiting his old home town reminds him of the safety and freedoms that Australians enjoy every day.

Mr Heyward, originally of Hobart, is 15 months into a three-year diplomatic posting in Islamabad.

On a rare visit home this week, Mr Heyward said being back in Australia he was reminded of the ability to walk around in public without fear.
Life in Pakistan for Mr Heyward and his wife Susan is lived behind the walled and guarded diplomatic enclave in Islamabad.

"I have close personal protection people when I go out and about," he said.

You get used to it but that doesn't mean it doesn't affect you psychologically. You try to live a normal life and do your job but there's that threat of violence always lurking in the background so we have to live our lives accordingly."

"As is shown by the news that comes out of there, it's still a place where there's quite a lot of public violence and terrorist threats, but it's very much a fascinating country with a lot of history," he said.

Map of Pakistan
(Source: Nationsonline)

Most of Pakistan is subject to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's highest alert level with Australians strongly advised not to travel to the country due to the threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation.

"Obviously there are various forms of terrorism and community violence. Some of it is political and some is sectarian between different factions of Islam, and some of it is just commercial, such as kidnapping for ransoms to fund other activities and extortion falls under some of that," he said.

"There are infrastructure problems. They have an energy system that is not delivering as much energy as people need so the electricity goes off a lot of the time.

"There is still quite a lot of corruption in the public sector and ... there are some economic reforms that need to be (implemented). The Government is in the early stages of plans to deal with all of that so there is some optimism."

It has been a rich and rewarding career which I continue to love. It has ranged from robust interdepartmental negotiation in Canberra to thrashing out key outcomes in the small backrooms of UN mega summits, engaging with tribal elders in remote Timorese villages and the survivors of sectarian bombings in northern Pakistan, helping an Australian company work its way through the minefields of federal and provincial politics to open the first large scale mine in Argentina, to promoting Australian tertiary institutions, including the University of Tasmania, to potential international students.

Each diplomat will have a different story but all will have at their core application of the craft of diplomacy - skills in research, analysis and negotiation. For me and I’m sure fellow University of Tasmania alumni diplomats, while these skills have been refined and honed through our diverse career experiences, their roots are in our study at the University of Tasmania."

IDP Foundation
Australian Ambassador and Consul-General Peter Heyward and IDPF President & CEO Irene D. Pritzker
February 2019
(Photography credit: Tom McDonald)



Australian Ambassadors

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

NumeracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Numeracy

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy


1. In pairs, you are to investigate the Australian Ambassadors.

2. Create a table with the following headings:

Ambassador's Name Represented Country Career Diplomatic Services Officer or ... Past Positions Qualifications Female or Male

The number of rows will be 45 - 49 for each student in the pair. So there will be 90+ rows in total including only Ambassadors and High Commissioners [not Deputies or Charge d'Affaires]. Divide up the Australian Ambassadors. Add to the rows if needed. 

3. Using the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's [DFAT] information complete your table. Reading


4. Analysis.

How many Ambassadors

  • are Career Diplomats?

  • are Politicians?

  • are Female? are Male? Work out the percentage of M/F Ambassadors.

  • have two or more degrees?

5. What interesting facts did you learn about our Australian Ambassadors?


High SchoolSecondary only

6. Read the following article from The Conversation 3 March 2015 about US Ambassadors and their appointments. Reading

The Conversation

Can you see any resemblance to Australian political appointments to posts of Ambassadors? Why? Why not?


Discuss as a class. Are political appointments ethical?





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