Posted by Ian Ballantine on Sep 16, 2020
A special meeting this morning as we were joined by Mitch Fifield, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations.
Even though it was a Zoom Meeting the atmosphere was charged with excitement and great expectations. Ian passed the meeting briefly to Pres. Geoff who welcomed 27 out of 32UN participants! Pres Geoff was largely responsible for getting Ambassador Mitch Fifield to speak to us through Zoom. We were joined by Jonathan Guttman and Julie Reid from Kingston Council.
Pres. Geoff welcomed Mitch Fifield to our club and while it was 7:30am Wednesday here in Australia, it was Tuesday 5:30 pm in New York! Isn’t Zoom wonderful?! Mitch Fifield is the Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations. He is a former Australian politician who served as a Senator for Victoria from 2004 -2019 representing The Liberal Party. Previously he had been the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Australian Senate (2017-2018), Minister for the Arts, (2015 -2018) and Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety (2017 amongst many other political responsibilities as well as being instrumental in forming NDIS and delivering where it is needed best. He became Permanent Representative to the United Nations in May 2019. Pres Geoff said that there were 2 or 3 questions but as it is a very busy time for the UN we will need to keep the meeting tight. Mitch began by saying thank you for having him on this day ad said seeing Ron and Jonathan made him feel homesick. He remarked that the contribution as individuals through   Rotary with volunteering, the world would be limited.  Mitch lives in NY which he said was once the epicenter of the Pandemic and is now returning to normality. Gone is the field hospital and the temporary Internment Centre in Central park, gone is the ship on the Hudson River and the hospital in the largest Convention Centre. He informed us that slowly traffic is returning and that restaurants are opening using the whole footpath and the first lane of the road. Time in the UN has been more conservative during the last 6 months. It is a challenge for diplomacy because in developing relations in person cannot be done so diplomacy has shifted on-line and expanding US relationships is done on Zoom instead of travel. Head of states will meet through video and Agendas, Pledges and Speeches per country are done through virtual meetings without bi-lateral meetings. COVID is transforming; it is most disruptive, no other thing has been disrupted so much in every way and has tested to the limit. Some things are straight forward, but chain supply has to be rethought and it is a time of upheaval which indicates that the world will be a very different.  However, Mitch says there are reasons to be heartened. UN has strengths and fulfills magnates of peace and has commuted 87 million people vaccinations, supports 60 Democracies. There are 95 thousand peace keepers. Conducts major laws e.g. the ozone layer, rules made by the Un regarding Freedom, navigation, dispute settlement and arrangement dealing with the South China Seas and responds to a range of crises. UN Agencies respond to UNICEF. Sanitation in world camps, operates medical response in 82 countries where UN is the only outfit on the ground. Australia lead the effort in World Health Association with support and scrutiny to make sure it can be the best as can be and if the only forum for the world bib and small to get together. The value is that it is globally focused as size and power depends on stability and prosperity. UN has political neutrality and recognizes international key sectors of international standard settings. UN looks at engagement in all organizations and reforms with the need to be practical and is in a good position for reform and has a good reputation as bridge builders. There are shifts in global power and COVID has stressed these trends. Diplomacy is critical in important forums and all nations should play the same rules. 
UN is celebrating 75th year of inception. The question asked was “in touching on so much, does one sometimes look at shortcomings?” But in saying this UN has great impact. Another question was the value to Australia? The comment on US is looking beyond borders? US is looking outward and inwardly and it was mentioned that Australia might not be as aware of surrounding countries as we might be.  UN can only do what the majority wants to do so in order to pass a statement there has to 50% plus one to do so. There are 193 member states, 2 observing states with no voting power which are the Vatican and Palestine. Kosovo and Tai Wan are 2 nations who would like to be members but are not accepted as nation states. Moving closer to home We were told that Ambassador Fifield had served in parliament under 7 prime ministers and there was impact to do his job. Unlike the US we do not have a Presidential System but the prominence of leaders feels like we are. Every parliament member is elected under a party banner. Our system has an inbuilt pressure valve enabling us to express in aa ballot box. We can control our reaction and we can be positive about changes in 1 or 2 days! Looking at action as we come out of CPVID Mitch explained we see more NY media than Australian. He mentioned that the NY mayor stays at the whole Press Conference and share and admits to mistakes as indeed some of the states’ Premiers do. Mitch felt that Australia is well placed in looking at the “new normal” because we did not have the numbers that faced the Us and we have confidence in the government. COVID did not hit us like others as, because we do not have international cross-overs and that more Australians live in suburbs and rural areas and therefore low-density areas. We also have good commonwealth and states co-operation. New York has high density with 51 states and leaders. Mitch led us to believe that our “new normal” will not be too dis-similar to our “old normal” so Australia should be as it was. New York will be wearing masks for very long time. He also thought the Australia was about 90 days’ behind in being able to act normally and be more free from restrictions! Ambassador Mitch Fifield acknowledged “Paddy” and “Nicolas” who helped organize this meeting and their effort to get him here today! He further added that it was fun and that he will watch progress with interest. We cannot thank Ambassador Mitch Fifield enough for giving us his time and energy to come and talk to us. We appreciate how busy his life is and thanks to Zoom we were all able to listen and learn.
The Bulletin Reporter would like to apologize for any errors that may have inadvertently been made. Mitch gave us so much information so hopefully all was taken down in good faith.  Pres. Geoff following Ambassador Fifield, to our colleagues   reiterated what he says each week that we should try and be helpful and that some of what NY is doing is what we are doing and keep on supporting a lot of people. Humans do not like to isolate so we should keep on talking.
Helen advised us clearly about the 2 events that are taking place next week and to take note so we should not be confused. We have (1) “normal” breakfast Zoom meeting at 7:30 Wednesday morning and our guest Speaker is Gareth Andrews. We have (2) Social Zoom meeting at 7:30 pm Wednesday evening with Guest Speaker, Dilhan C Fernando.  Our social meeting is also the date of Ian’s partner Helen’s Birthday! Happy Birthday Helen. It will be fun to share your special day.PE Helen N will deliver to all of us a care pack, so we can all join up with a cup of tea! Thank you Geoff Gartly for arranging this Special Guest for our special meeting. It should be a good meeting and we are able to invite friends to join us. Jo reminded us to support the St. Kilda Mums and to try and get single and cot bed blankets. The Saturday afternoon meeting was successful. Tony R mentioned that he was able to get onto the web site and was very happy with it. We wish Jo a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY on the 17th and hope in these strange times she can still have a good one and a safe, healthy COVID 19 free year to come. Pres. Geoff in closing the meeting hoped we enjoyed the meeting and because of Zoom we are able to get such an important international speaker. Perhaps we could set ourselves a challenge and aim for more different speakers. He wished us a wonderful week and we should remember ROTARY OPENS OPPORTUNITIES
Zilla (Bulletin Reporter)