Martine Letts

The most surprising thing about my course was learning about how little you knew and what fun it could be to travel down complete rabbit holes in the process of looking for answers to other questions. And how engaged and kind most of my professors and tutors were.

With prestigious employers including the Australian Red Cross, Lowy Institute and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on her resume, ANU alumna Martine Letts reflects that the skills she gained through her Bachelor of Arts degree at The Australian National University were crucial to building a career in international diplomacy, policy and business.

Martine, who in March 2016 became Chief Executive of the Committee for Melbourne, has carved out a diverse domestic and international career since graduating in 1982.

“Thanks to my education at ANU, I was flexible enough to adapt to roles within government as well as the not-for-profit sector, at DFAT, the Australian Red Cross, the Lowy Institute for International Policy, the Australia China Business Council and now the Committee for Melbourne,” she says.

“I majored in Political Science and German language and literature. The degree was highly useful for encouraging critical and original thinking as well as building research and analytical skills.

“Immersing yourself in another language and culture is also fundamental to being open to other cultures, ways of thinking and understanding more of the world.  Languages open doors and perspectives in a way few other skills do. 

“Political Science, and especially Ancient and Medieval Political Thought were avenues into understanding the foundations of our modern political structures – and tensions – as they are today.”

Martine said attending ANU was “an opportunity for knowledge, friendships, growth, experimentation and learning how to manage increased personal freedom.

“An ‘intermittent student’ - as my former German Professor Hans Kuhn liked to say - I enjoyed everything the university had to offer. Naturally this was not all connected with study, but participating fully in the university community gave me an all-round education which helped shape future career choices.”

That included performing with the Choral Society and Dramatic Society and broadcasting on 2XX, which was then based on campus.

“2XX taught me how to design, direct, write, produce and project manage something from start to finish, and honed communication skills,” she says.

“This was great preparation for a subsequent career in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other organisations.”

Martine spent 17 years with DFAT, serving as Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, Deputy Head of Mission in Vienna, Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and advising the Foreign Minister.  An ANU Council member for a decade, Martine also belonged to the Advisory Board of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, co-chaired by ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans and the former Foreign Minister of Japan.  She remains on the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies’ board.

Martine was Secretary-General of the Australian Red Cross for four years, CEO of the Australia-China Business Council for two years and Deputy Director of the Lowy Institute for eight years.

She says her global view was shaped by her time at the ANU and encourages students to choose a course which will not just to a job, but also challenge their minds and preconceptions. 

“A truly broad university experience is critical to making you a well-rounded person and prepares you for a rich life,” she says.

“Make sure you get to know non-Australian students. Not only will you make them feel welcome, but you can build valuable contacts and friendships for the rest of your life.  Try to make study abroad part of your study plan.

“And don’t forget-Australia’s future depends on engaging with the rest of world. This is not a choice.”

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Updated:  22 June 2021/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications