Asia beckons as Victoria’s first female Governor settles into her first year in office.
Crossing the half year mark into her first year in office, Linda Marion Dessau AM is the first woman to hold the position as Governor in the State of Victoria – the home of multiculturalism.
Leading a remarkable life as a former judge of the Family Court of Australia for seventeen years, President of the Melbourne Festival in 2014, an appointment to the AFL Commission in 2007, Melbourne-born Linda Dessau’s experiences cross the length and breadth of law and Melbourne’s cultural and sports scenes.
In 2010, public recognition of her extraordinary contribution in the areas of family law policy and practice and to the broader community came when She was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia.
As Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau has rapidly gained an appreciation and admiration of Victoria’s warm and respectful relationships with its Asian neighbours.
In this special Lunar New Year cover story, The Asian Executive is pleased to present an interview with Governor Dessau.
The following is an edited version of an exclusive appointment with the Governor of Victoria held at Government House on the eve of the Lunar New Year of the Monkey.
The Asian Executive wishes to thank the Office of the Premier and Cabinet for its generous assistance in facilitating the interview.
TAE: In your inaugural speech in July last year, you mention that you desired to be a “Governor of our times.” Could you please elaborate more on what you mean by that? How would you describe the times we live in?
Linda Dessau AM: What I meant is that I’m fully respectful of the traditions of this role, but I feel the role must be done in a contemporary way, so that it remains relevant to Victorians. One small example is that we are becoming more involved in social media, as the way of ensuring that we reach out to the community, educate them as to the Governor’s role and ensure that organizations of which I am the patron, or with which I am involved, gain appropriate recognition. That’s an important element of modernity for me. It also means opening up Government House more often and making an effort to reach out to young Victorians and Victorians of all different backgrounds
TAE: You and your husband, Judge Howard were official guests of the 2015 World Chinese Economic Summit in London. What were your impressions of people living and working in London in a China engagement context?
Linda Dessau AM: I saw the enthusiasm and the fervor amongst the English in doing a great deal of business with China. There was no question that there was a deep commitment to that process. It highlighted for me, that in our part of the world – Australia, and particularly in Victoria – we have such a long-standing history with China and the Chinese, that it was not something as new to us. As Governor of Victoria, I found I could speak with authenticity about our relationship with China because of the long historical basis of that relationship.
TAE: You visited PMQ in Hong Kong last year in your capacity as Governor of Victoria. You saw over 100 design and creative enterprises operating under one roof which must have been an eye-opener. How would the describe that experience you had while being guided by Carrie Lam, Chief Secretary for Administration, Chief Secretary, Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong?
Linda Dessau AM: Visiting PMQ was an enjoyable experience for me on different levels.
First, we used to live in Hong Kong. I spent three years in Hong Kong during the eighties, prosecuting criminal trials there. PMQ resonated with me, not as the fabulous centre that it is today, but as the former Police Married Quarters, as it was called then.
To see this old building which was where the married police officers were quartered, now turned into this absolute hotbed of innovation and creativity was exciting in itself.
Then, to see the new Chinese creativity and the confidence with which innovative, creative work was taking place was really an interesting element to that visit. I thought the broad interpretation of creative industries was clever and forward thinking. There is performance space, shops and offices, and the disciplines span every aspect of design from jewellery to buildings and more.
TAE: You hosted an official visit by Governor of Aichi Prefecture, His Excellency, Mr. Ohmura last year. How would you describe the relationship between Victoria and Aichi?
Linda Dessau AM: It was immediately apparent that the depth of the relationship is a genuine one, based on a continuous history. I am one of a long line of Governors who have upheld the integrity of that relationship with Aichi, and I think those historical relationships mean a great deal. I could see a real mutual appreciation and benefit in the sorts of exchanges that we have shared, particularly at a government and parliamentary level. In my visit to Aichi last year, I was then particularly impressed with the
degree of innovation in its manufacturing sector. Aichi is of course in the manufacturing heartland of Japan.
TAE: Jiangsu and Victoria share a relationship that spans thirty-seven years – the oldest such relationship between an Australian state and Chinese province. We understand that ten schools from Jiangsu visited Victoria for ten days between 21 July and 30 July last year. What were your observations about the outcome of the visit? What special moments are you able to describe which give a sense of the humanity of such visits?
Linda Dessau AM: The visitation from the ten schools from Jiangsu was my first interaction on a personal level with our sister city. I had only taken office a couple of weeks before then. While I already knew about the relationship, the depth of that relationship, and the mutual affection became apparent to me from that visitation.
Seeing all the Chinese and Victorian children fill our ballroom was probably one of the nicest moments we have had to date. It was lovely seeing and hearing the children talking and playing. When we refer to cultural exchanges, I could see no finer example of that in our ballroom at that time.
I witnessed Chinese children performing in impeccable English and our local children speaking Mandarin. I am told by our Consul General of the PRC in Melbourne that our local children’s standard of Mandarin was similarly impeccable.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether they came from Australia or China. They were squealing, and laughing, and dancing in that beautiful space.
We know that’s the basis for a long-term relationship between those youngsters and between our two jurisdictions.
TAE: We are entering the Lunar Year of the Monkey. How do you plan to celebrate the festive season?
Linda Dessau AM: One of a number of things I’m going to do is visit the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo. I just think it’s timely for me to go and to have a look at “Sun Loong” – believed to be the world’s longest ceremonial imperial dragon in the world, and just try to understand the local history more deeply.
TAE: Finally, what legacy do you wish to make during your tenure as Governor of Victoria for future generations to remember you?
Linda Dessau AM: I would like to be remembered as hard-working Governor, who made a contribution to the State of Victoria’s well-being, particularly in social inclusion and social harmony. I would like to be remembered as a contemporary Governor – someone that people could relate to and felt comfortable with.
TAE: Thank you for your time.
Linda Dessau AM: You are welcome.