Australian aide: alumna heads to Capitol Hill

Since joining a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade graduate program fresh out of law school, Sarah Storey has enjoyed an exciting diplomatic career, with postings from Brussels to Bangkok. Now, the MLS alumna has embarked on her “dream job”, as US Congressional Liaison Officer for the Australian Embassy in Washington.

Sarah Storey

Throughout her university studies, Storey (BA(Hons) 1992, LLB(Hons) 1995) was drawn to international politics and law, keen to work overseas after graduating. Her acceptance into the DFAT program enabled further study, and after two years she was deployed to Papua New Guinea as part of a Truce Monitoring Group on a regional peace support mission.

“We were a regional, unarmed group under New Zealand command deployed to the PNG province of Bougainville after a 10-year civil war, weeks after a truce was negotiated,” Storey says.

“It was pretty chaotic and raw when we first got there.

“I was then deployed out to a team site and was under Fijian command and stationed with New Zealand and ni-Vanuatu soldiers and Australian civilians. A lot of people hadn’t actually heard that there was a truce and it was very sensitive on the ground.”

Inspired by the experience, Storey took up a diplomatic post in PNG and spent three years helping to broker a peace agreement.

“[I was] very fresh and very young. It was a fantastic time of my life and it was amazing to be posted to PNG.”

Storey next worked as a policy advisor to then DFAT Secretary Dr Ashton Calvert, starting in the role only two days after 9/11.

“Conventional diplomacy was thought to be turned on its head,” she says. “It was a very confronting time, but an incredible time to work there.”

This was followed by a short stint in the office of then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, and, after a period of maternity leave and two years in DFAT’s human resources field, deployed on DFAT appointments to the embassies in Belgium and Thailand.

After returning to Australia in 2013, Storey was an advisor to then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, before being promoted to head up DFAT’s consular operations, assisting the 16,000 Australians in difficulty overseas each year.

She led DFAT’s media and parliamentary liaison branch in 2017, before being posted to the Australian Embassy’s Congressional Liaison Office in June last year.

Storey says her law degree has held her “in good stead” throughout her career, helping her “in all of [my] roles, even if they haven’t been principally and primarily legal”.

“You’re sensitive to legal consequences and implications, risk assessments, [and] anticipating what might happen in terms of policy outcomes and politics.”

Storey describes her current role as “a real dream job … combining politics and diplomacy”.

“It’s our job to be relationship facilitators with Congress and to explain to Canberra and the other parts of the Embassy what is happening in Congress,” she says.

“A lot of [my day] … is monitoring the media to see what is happening in politics, in Congress, the dynamics between, say, Congress and the White House. If there is legislation we’re tracking, we’ll do that.

“We also get up to the Hill personally as much as possible and speak to mainly staffers at my level and people who are influential around town about what’s going on.”

Ahead of last year’s midterm elections, Storey and her team travelled extensively through the US states, attending political rallies, and meeting with candidates, analysts and journalists “so that Australia could understand the dynamics of the situation and where things might be headed”.

Storey is now looking ahead to the 2020 US presidential contest.

“It’s going to be an interesting ride,” she says.

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