From Canberra to Qatar
Australian Ambassador Jonathan Muir (MIntAff '04) recalls his roots
23 Mar 2023
Without studying at ANU, there would be no career in diplomacy.
20 years ago, Jonathan Muir was considering a career change - transitioning from his work in the resource and energy sectors to studying international affairs.
He took the leap, and today, his ANU degree has brought him halfway across the world as the current Australian Ambassador to Qatar, upholding Australia's interests in the region.
It was a world-defining event that started his career. "I'd studied Bachelor of Arts in politics at the Queensland University of Technology, and during that time, the 9/11 attack happened, so that solidified my very strong interest in international affairs and the need to understand the world around us," Jonathan recalls.
Jonathan moved from Queensland to Canberra to study a Master of International Affairs (now the Master of International Relations) at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP). It was the history of the CAP Schools and Departments that attracted him - he knew that the Department of International Relations was the first of its kind in Australia.
Jonathan ended up having a practical experience unique to the University and to Canberra. He recalls hosting discussions with then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and learning from professors with years of experience in the public service and practical diplomacy, such as former DFAT Secretary Professor Stuart Harris. Jonathan and his classmates from all over the world would have gatherings at University House - and today many of those classmates are serving in foreign ministries around the world, keeping in contact and exchanging knowledge with him.
As Australian Ambassador to Qatar, Jonathan protects and promotes the interests of the Australian government, Australian businesses and Australian citizens. He applies the skills he learned at ANU to succeed in those critical elements - especially the soft skills such as critical thinking and cultural understanding, an appreciation for the country you're in, and managing a multicultural team.
"You can't achieve your outcomes if it's in a vacuum, if you don't understand the context of the country you're operating in, the values that the society holds, the history of the country, and the way they go about business. The mandate from the government may be clear about what it wants to achieve, but it's usually up to the ambassador and the mission to determine, or perhaps negotiate, how that happens."
Qatar has a population of around 3 million people, and approximately 90 per cent of those are expatriates. Jonathan estimates that 3,000 Australians live and work in the State, and speaks fondly of the bonds between the two countries. He notes, for instance, that Qatar Airways was one of the only major airlines to continue flying to Australia during the pandemic getting many consular clients home. Qatar also played a key role in helping to uplift over 400 vulnerable Australians and Afghans during the mass evacuations from Afghanistan in September 2021.
Jonathan and his team continue to cultivate the relationship between the two countries, and an Australian sense of community. With the recent 2022 World Cup in Qatar, his team worked closely with Football Australia and the Socceroos during the World Cup, developing and implementing a consular operation that supported 10,000 Australians attending and enjoying the matches safely - and it was a bonus for him and his family to watch their home team in a World Cup unlike any other.
"That was a really rewarding professional and personal experience for the whole team ... and it was an exciting time for my boys to be here as well!"
Jonathan plays an important role for both Australia and Qatar, and he encourages those studying International Relations at ANU to value the soft skills they are learning, the connections they are making, and to look forward to where their own journeys will take them.
"Just stay flexible and you never know where you'll end up. If it's a career in diplomacy, all the better - you'd be making a great contribution to Australia, and I think it's probably worth throwing in here, just the range of things that you would do as a diplomat ... It's a great, rewarding opportunity to serve your country overseas, and get to know people overseas. You can do some amazing things."