Tuesday, October 27, 2015

DFAT guardians of style defend Julie Bishop's fashion diplomacy

Henry Belot, canberratimes.com.au

Defender of Australian fashion: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Defender of Australian fashion: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials have defended the use of fashion to achieve foreign policy objectives and a social media campaign using the hashtag #fashiondiplomacy.

DFAT sponsored five Australian designers to attend the Paris Fashion Week after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Fashion Chamber on August 31.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian diplomats had also hosted industry events in New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, Jakarta and New Delhi to advance global recognition.

Ms Bishop has routinely used the #fashiondiplomacy hashtag on social media to publicise department and industry initiatives, including the opening of fashion events in Sydney. 

The initiative did not escape the gaze of NSW Senator Sam Dastayari who questioned the public diplomacy benefits of the campaign.

"I am not opposed to the Australian fashion industry," he told a senate estimates hearing. "I am opposed to an initiative that is only glorifying the foreign minister. That is what I have an issue with."

DFAT secretary Peter Varghese said the promotion of Australian industry, style and commerce were core functions of the department.

"Fashion diplomacy embraces innovation, style and creativity, all of which are key themes in terms of the way in which we wish to project this country abroad," he said.

"So the themes around fashion diplomacy not only are consistent with but actually reinforce the core messaging that we have for our public diplomacy."

Robert Tranter, a spokesman for the department's public diplomacy department who was described by Mr Dastayari "very well dressed", said the #fashiondiplomacy hashtag was also promoted within the department.

"In markets where we are promoting our fashion industry we look at the activities of the British Council for example," he said.  

"They are quite aggressively promoting British design interests also using a similar handle of #fashiondiplomacy."

Mr Dastayari said he believed DFAT employees had been advised on the appropriate use of #fashiondiplomacy on social media although the matter was taken on notice by the department.

"I know that we certainly encourage our posts to use the #fashiondiplomacy when we are promoting Australian fashion," Mr Tranter said

At the opening of a fashion event in Sydney last month, Ms Bishop said she had embraced fashion diplomacy as a pillar of foreign policy under the umbrella of economic diplomacy.

"The Australian fashion industry is the exemplar of our creative economy," she said. "220,000 jobs in Australia, $12 billion contributed to our economy each and every year."

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