British high commissioner Vicki Treadell fires back at Penny Wong’s colonial past speech

By contrast, Australia has recently appointed two men – former prime minister Kevin Rudd and former foreign minister Stephen Smith – to the most prized diplomatic posts, the US and the UK respectively.

Treadell’s use of her own personal story and achievements mirrors Wong’s comments in London when she invoked her family history to criticise British colonialism. In her address at King’s College, Wong said countries such as Britain would not find common ground in the Indo-Pacific region if they stayed “sheltered in narrower versions” of their histories.

Vicki Treadell was Britain’s first female high commissioner of colour when she was posted to New Zealand.

Vicki Treadell was Britain’s first female high commissioner of colour when she was posted to New Zealand.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“Such stories can sometimes feel uncomfortable – for those whose stories they are, and for those who hear them,” Wong said.

“But understanding the past enables us to better share the present and the future.”


Wong’s speech was badly received by sections of the UK press and her British counterpart, James Cleverly, rejected Wong’s assessment and pointed to his appointment as the country’s first black secretary by the first Hindu prime minister of Asian heritage.

However, Wong and Cleverly did agree at the end of her trip that the countries remained “best mates”.

But in her speech on Wednesday, Treadell says it is important that best mates did not take each other for granted.

“There’s a phrase we like to use a lot about the Australia and UK relationship, ‘the best of mates’,” Treadell will say.

“The thing about mates is that you should never take them for granted.

“Friendship can be built on old ties, but true partnership requires renewal and growth.”

Rishi Sunak is Britain’s first prime minister of Asian heritage.

Rishi Sunak is Britain’s first prime minister of Asian heritage.Credit:AP

Treadell said relationships as close as Australia’s and Britain’s only survived with change and adaptation.

“If not, we wake up one morning and realise we no longer know each other,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen between the UK and Australia.”

She compared Britain’s diversity success with Australia’s record, saying her country had already smashed through a key barrier, with the elevation of Rishi Sunak, a practising Hindu and the son of Indian migrants, to Number 10.

She will tell the National Press Club that, by contrast, this remains a dream in Australia.

“I recently met with a year 11 student, a high-achieving young woman of Asian ancestry,” Treadell will say. “I asked, as I often do of young people, where she hoped to be in 30 years. ‘Prime minister of Australia,’ she said.

“On this International Women’s Day, it’s heartening to recall her say this with a surety that belied not a dream, but a goal to be attained.

“It’s an attitude we’ve sought to foster in the UK.”

Treadell said Britain had much to do in further progressing diversity, but had a proud history that had contributed to its current success.

She said while she represents the “Britain of Bronte and Beckham”, her nation also had other success stories like that of Sunak, as well as actor Riz Ahmed and jazz musician Courtney Pine.

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