Richard Arthur Woolcott
June 11, 1927 (Sydney) – February 2, 2023 (Canberra)

Ambassador Richard Woolcott AC, Australian patriot, passed away this week aged 95.

From 1992, for 23 years Dick served on the Board of the Australian American Education Foundation, the Melbourne based non-profit education foundation which resources AALD programming. After retiring as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dick lent his prestige and vast global network to help launch the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. He was a frequent participant in the annual AALD, and regularly described the AALD network of US leaders as “unparalleled”.

A multilateralist at heart, Dick believed Australia’s future lies in our geography and his eloquence on this subject was evident during numerous exchanges in closed sessions with our American interlocutors. Dick acknowledged that the importance of Asia and the imperative for Australia to adjust to our geographical neighbourhood was not new, though the responses from successive Australian governments has been “far from adequate”.

What WAS new, as Dick presciently observed, was “the unprecedented transfer of wealth from the West to the East, which will continue into the foreseeable future”. This transformed the Indo Pacific region driven by the spectacular rise of China and also India, the continuing strength of Japan, South Korea and the
growing potential of Indonesia and ASEAN as the historic turning point to which Australia must respond.

Well ahead of his time, Dick declared: “We live in a much more interconnected world and the Asia Pacific is the region where the world’s major power relationships most closely intersect. It is where the template for the United States-China relationship will largely be shaped. It is also the crucible in which the interrelationships on Asian issues between the US, China, India, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea and the main ASEAN economies will be forged”.

Dick’s stellar diplomatic career has been well chronicled by those who served with him, including former Australian Secretary of Defence Ric Smith, who said Dick “was the most significant Australian diplomat of the period”. Dick saw it all, from Stalin’s 1953 passing in Moscow to the Presidency of the UN Security Council in New York. Backed by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Dick’s astute and deft diplomacy played a significant role in the establishment of APEC.

Of all issues Dick Woolcott faced over his long diplomatic career none proved more intractable than Timor. He opposed the Howard government’s policy of facilitating East Timor’s independence. Ironically, it fell to Dick’s successor on the AALD Board, Sir Peter Cosgrove, to lead the UN multinational force into East Timor (InterFIT).

Dick accepted the reality of East Timor independence and, following the celebration attended by East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and Indonesian President Megawati, he wrote of grounds for optimism in the future. This gave expression to Dick’s “half glass full” approach to professional and personal life.

Dick’s significant contributions to the Leadership Dialogue embraced governance, thought leadership, embedding the bipartisan principle, identifying future Australian and US leaders, promoting the sustainability of Australian systemic high performance, and well informed substance to serious exchanges with US leaders at closed AALD sessions.

In July 2010 Dick’s recognition as inaugural Leadership Dialogue Honoree was led by his good friend, founding AALD delegate, and former US Deputy Secretary of State. Hon Bob Zoellick.

We thank Dick for his unique contributions to the Leadership Dialogue over many years.

Phil Scanlan AM
February 5, 2023