Making NGOs AccountableAdvanced Search

Hon. Alexander Downer AC

The Honourable Alexander Downer retired from politics in 2008 after a distinguished career spanning 23 years. Alexander is renowned for serving his country with enormous energy, passion, dedication and integrity. He was Australia’s longest serving foreign minister during the Howard Government from March 1996 to December 2007. He was Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party from May 1994 to January 1995.

Alexander was born in South Australia, and was educated at Geelong Grammar in Victoria and Radley College in Oxford. The son of a prominent Australian politician and former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sir Alec Downer, Alexander was a leader with drive and enthusiasm from an early age. Alexander’s university life at the University of Newcastle on Tyne in UK provided him with a very international perspective on life that he was to use extensively through his later career. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Politics and Economics and is a Doctor of Civil Laws (honoris causa). Alexander also holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Bar Ilan University.

Prior to entering Parliament, Alexander held a number of senior positions in government and the private sector. He worked as an Economist to Westpac Bank and as an Australian diplomat in the Australian Missions to European Union and NATO, and as an Embassy representative in Belgium and Luxembourg.

Alexander held senior political advisory roles with former Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Fraser and Federal Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Andrew Peacock before entering parliament himself as the Member for Mayo in 1984.

Alexander has an unparalleled grasp of the global community, its countries, governments and peoples. As Foreign Minister he was at the forefront of Australian foreign policy during some very turbulent and also progressive times. He witnessed the increase in global terrorism and orchestrated significant reforms to combat its influence; he was instrumental in delivering independence in East Timor; he played a pivotal role in Australia’s response to the Middle East conflicts; he has been an active participant and diplomatic force on global issues of human rights, climate change and natural disasters and at the same time found the time to continue to represent his local constituency on Local, State and Federal issues.

On 26 January 2013, Alexander was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for distinguished service as Foreign Minister to the Parliament of Australia through the advancement of international relations and foreign policy
Alexander is respected around the world as a man committed to making the world a better place and enhancing Australia’s position in the global community. His energy and passion is unsurpassed. He is not one to shirk the tough issues yet is driven by compassion when leading the world’s response to events that have catastrophic effects on ordinary people.

Alexander’s life after politics is full and diverse. He is a Partner in his firm, Bespoke Approach, a strategic advisory business as well as the Secretary General of the United Nation’s Special Advisor on Cyprus at the level of Under Secretary General. He is also a Visiting Professor of Politics and International Trade at the University of Adelaide and sits on a number of boards. He enjoys speaking to business and community groups on a wide range of topics that include leadership, regional and global stability, future trends, the art of international negotiation, to mention but a few of his topics. His speeches are full with anecdotes that provide the listener with an insight into how it works at the top – the tensions, the humour and the characters that make the World go around. Alexander’s years in the media spotlight has shown him to be very quick witted and a man with a wonderfully Australian sense of humour.

Alexander is married to Nicky and they have three daughters and a son. They live in Adelaide Hills where Alexander enjoys his tennis and golf.

Highlights of Mr Downer’s tenure as Foreign Minister included:

  • The adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1998, which bans all nuclear weapons test explosions and all other nuclear explosions for all time;
  • A leadership role in the Bougainville Peace Process, which has brought peace to an area which had seen terrible bloodshed through civil war;
  • Overseeing Australia’s role in the development of the International Criminal Court statute and ensured its ratification by the Australian Parliament;
  • Delivering an independent East Timor by urging Indonesia to give the people of East Timor a vote on their future and then successfully negotiating at the UN for a Chapter Seven resolution to deploy peace-keepers;
  • The negotiation of the East Timor Gap Treaty, securing prosperity for East Timor and opportunities for Australian industry;
  • Playing a pivotal role in establishing the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and the Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, both of which engage the major greenhouse gas emitting countries in addressing the challenges of climate change;
  • Driving Australia’s involvement in the development of the International Criminal Court statute and ensuring its ratification by the Australian Parliament.
  • Establishing the Australia-UK Ministerial Dialogue, an annual meeting of foreign and defence Ministers, to enhance strategic, defence and policy cooperation between the UK and Australia.
  • Playing a key part in National Security Committee of Cabinet deliberations on Australia’s role in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts;
  • Establishing the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which institutes parliamentary scrutiny of treaties and greater democracy and transparency in treaty consideration.
  • Increased co-operation with our regional partners on the crucial issue of counter-terrorism;
  • A new era of co-operation with Indonesia through the co-hosting of a Ministerial meeting on Counter Terrorism, the establishment of the Indonesia Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation and the co-hosting of two Ministerial meetings on combating people smuggling;
  • Establishing Human Rights Dialogues with China, Iran and Burma;
  • The Regional Assistance Mission for Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which has seen the restoration of peace and stability to a deeply troubled Pacific neighbor;
  • Establishing the Youth Ambassadors for Development program;
  • Establishing the Centre for Democratic Institutions to help build better governance in the region;
  • Resuming diplomatic relations with the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea;
  • Campaigning for a comprehensive response in the region to HIV/AIDS through the establishment of $200million aid program and chairing the first ever regional summit on HIV/AIDS which was hosted in Australia.
  • Reform of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service;
  • Realigning the foreign aid program to focus on improved governance, assisting developing countries maximise the benefits of globalisation and strengthening regional security;
  • Overseeing two White Papers on foreign policy.