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Julie Bishop’s advice for a career in politics

“Would I have done things differently knowing that now? Maybe, but I don’t go over history– I just get on with things day-on-day and focus on what I am doing.”

The world is facing it’s most complex challenges to date.

From global terrorism and unprecedented levels of poverty to the global refugee crisis and climate change, our government have some huge responsibilities to bear. After all, they’re the ones preparing our country to face the (always uncertain) future, who protect us and are charged with maintaining and developing the Australian culture we love.

Those responsibilities get just a little heavier knowing that what we do today and what we do as a nation dictates the fate of generations to come. Eek.

For you and I, most of these problems sit far apart from our everyday lives. For Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop however, these issues sit on her daily to-do list.

We were lucky enough to chat to Bishop about her career and what budding politicians should know about the industry. Here’s what we found out.

On career progression:

Bishop is first to acknowledge that, “Things are dramatically different now in terms of career progression,” as at the ripe age of 26 she became a partner at the law firm Mangan, Ey & Bishop and by 30 she was one of the most well regarded commercial litigators in Perth.No biggie.

Statistically, we tend take longer to find our feet. Though Bishop understands:

“When I started law, I intended to be a lawyer, now it is a platform for a range of other industries. My path, it was rather set – I finished studying, did my Articles, became a Partner and my career stayed there 20 years.”

She says that in her early 20’s, “There were certainly many sliding-doors moments,” i.e. those instances when if you turn one way your life and career would go in one direction, and if you turn another, you’d end up on a completely different track.

Ultimately though, she recommends taking (the occasional) risk to get to the next level:

“I left my Articles six months into the clerkship to work in a new law firm that was setting up. This was risky, but the move allowed me to be my own person, rather than working in a large institution. [It was] a risk that turned out to be, one worth taking”.

She also recommends trying out more than one profession or niche before settling, it’s expected unlike when she was making her start. We couldn’t agree more.

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On her choice to enter politics:

Bishop didn’t always dream of a career in politics.

It’s only after reflecting on 20 years practicing law that she can even see parallels between the two:

“As a solicitor, you take on a person’s concerns,” she explains. “You are presented with a client who has a legal issue and you are their advocate. Certainly, the negotiating skills and analytical skills needed in law are useful for politics. Behind every corporation there are people, they are affected by the outcome of the decision, of the outcome of every litigation. In fact, working in commercial ligation was fascinating because of the human element of the non-theoretical. As a politician we are policy makers but there is a human element. It attracted me to both, the impact you have on people.”

How do you get into politics?

“You need some kind of life experience before entering into federal politics,” Bishop explains matter-of-factly.

“People who come directly into politics have one particular set of skills to bring to it but I think a much broader experience is likely to bring more to political life. Whether it be a law degree, working in a factory, starting your own business, or studying economics or politics.”

When it comes to succeeding in the industry once there, Bishop believes that adaptability is as important as resilience:

“I have had a number of different portfolios and it is my approach to understand as much as I can, but also while recognising that your time can be limited.”

What makes someone succeed in politics?

“Judgment and balance in any career is important, You need to be adaptable, and respond to circumstances – but you also have to make your own opportunities arise. When you think, ‘I should put myself forward to be considered for that job’, back your judgment and have confidence, talk about it, don’t be shy about promoting your capabilities, though of course, make sure you can live up to your own expectation and promotion.”

What do you do when you are faced with a career cross road?

“It comes down to trusting my instincts and it is always useful to have people to turn to.”

Her face lightens as she reflects on a “number of people, in both law and politics – good friends that I will turn to,” for advice; but her greatest mentor was her mother, “a good judge of character, she knew me very well, and so often I took her advice.”

On mentorship:

“You can’t just have one person, it’s important as you go through your career to find people whose opinions matter to you.”

Though she makes it clear that mentorship is something that you do, not something that you have.

In her eyes there is a key difference between mentorship and decision-making, while she encourages people to “seek out the views of others,” the greatest value will come from your analysis of these opinions. “You know what is best for you. At the end of the day, you have to live with your decisions.”

Can you talk to us about your role as our Foreign Minister when it comes to dealing with Syria?

Within her responsibility sits one of the most topical points of Australian politics, Syria. To which Bishop makes it clear that building a path to peace in the Middle East is more necessary than ever.

She reflects on a time when she first stepped into the Foreign Affairs portfolio and her duty to open a “political dialogue” with the nation.:

“The situation in Syria was in utter turmoil; not only was there civil war, but there were significant terrorist groups taking advantage of this vacuum in leadership.”

With hundreds of lawless factions occupying regions within Syria and over 80 countries around the world acknowledging that they have citizens crossing the border to engage in conflict, Bishop talks about her approach to the problem:

“You have to be realistic and pragmatic; you deal with the world as it is, not how you would like it to be. And if that means we have to deal with a dictatorship to get an end to the humanitarian crisis, than we do. The UN is brokering a political deal in the region. A cease-fire has been agreed to by both the US and Russia and, I hope that it holds. We can then focus on defeating the terrorist organisation, while addressing the humanitarian path.” And I smile, because as quickly as I peg her to be driven by logic, she reminds me that it is the people that her policy affects that are directing the driver.

What are you missing footnotes? As in, what do you wish you had of known about a career in politics?

Bishop laughs when asked if there is anything she wishes she had of known:

“Starting out, I didn’t have a deep enough appreciation that in politics you are no longer a private person, rather an open book/ public property. Would I have done things differently knowing that now? Maybe, but I don’t go over history– I just get on with things day-on-day and focus on what I am doing.”

In her own words, “You deal with the world as it is, not how you would like it to be.”

 

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Julie Bishop’s advice for a career in politics
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