His Excellency Mr Derek Leask
Ambassador of New Zealand
Mr Derek Leask had a formidable introduction to the job of High Commissioner. Six days after he arrived, he attended a memorial service at Windsor Castle for New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountaineer and explorer. As Hillary was a member of the Order of the Garter, this event in his honour took place in St George’s Chapel and was attended by the Queen and the New Zealand Prime Minister. Although it was a sad occasion, it was also an impressive one, and ‘an extraordinary ceremony to start one’s posting with.’
Mr Leask has come to London with his partner, facilitator and strategy consultant Patricia Stevenson. Familiar with New Zealand House, having worked here as a counsellor during the 1980s, he tells me it is an ‘especially busy and exciting time to be High Commissioner.’ He’s also accredited to Ireland and Nigeria, so has plenty of work to do.
Mr Leask was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1948. Having attended Victoria University (BCA), and Canterbury University (M. Comm, Hons-Economics), the High Commissioner’s introduction to diplomacy came when he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a student and, after his degree, he followed this vocation full-time. He tells me: ‘I have always regarded my job as working as a government official, as a public servant inside the New Zealand policy making machinery.’ However, he is keen to emphasise ‘I have always enjoyed my time in New Zealand as much as I have enjoyed my times abroad.’ He was New Zealand’s Ambassador to the European Communities from 1994 to 1999 and, in addition to the Brussels posting, has served previously in Suva and Ottawa.
Mr Leask’s most recent position was at home, as Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He coordinated trade negotiations across the board, including the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Development Round as well as bilateral and regional free trade agreements. He mentions it was a matter of some regret that he left Wellington just days before the signing of the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement.
Mr Leask hopes to ‘maintain the vibrancy of our links with Britain, Ireland and Nigeria, to continue to have a useful, collaborative relationship.’ This involves advancing New Zealand’s commercial interests with the UK, best done through continuous dialogue between leaders in the finance and business arenas from both countries. It is also a priority for New Zealand to work closely with Britain – ‘a hugely important and influential member of the EU’ – on matters of European policy. New Zealand has always forged close links with the UK in relation to the Commonwealth and the United Nations. Mr Leask tells me New Zealand has longstanding relations with Britain on foreign policy: ‘we have common values, we often see things the same way, although not always. However, it’s still very important that we communicate.’
During his quieter moments, Mr Leask enjoys playing golf. While in the UK, he tells me ‘there are no shortage of golf courses, just a shortage of time in which to play!’ He also calls himself ‘an amateur historian’ with a special interest in military events in New Zealand between 1840 and 1880. He looks forward to using the National Archives, the British Library and the Royal Geographical Society to provide ‘rich sources of material’ for his studies. Mr Leask acknowledges the greatest diplomatic challenge for any small country is establishing how not to be marginalised in a globalised world. He adds that New Zealand needs to ensure it is an active and consistent participant in the Asia-Pacific region and, at the same time, develop those hugely important economic, political and cultural links with other parts of the world, and in particular, ‘with the UK, which has contributed enormously to New Zealand’s cultural heritage.’ With such an impressive political career to date, it seems that while he’s in London Mr Leask will continue to build on New Zealand’s role in Europe and to nurture its relations in the wider global context.
Thanks to http://d342537.u26.pipeten.co.uk/headsofmission/diplomat.aspx?intDiplomatID=340