2 February 2023

Former top ranking diplomat Richard Woolcott dies aged 95

| Chris Johnson
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Richard Woolcott

Richard Woolcott remained a trusted advisor to government after he left DFAT. Photo: University of Melbourne.

Richard Woolcott, one of Australia’s most prominent and influential diplomats, has died in Canberra aged 95.

Described by many as a giant of Australian diplomacy, Woolcott served governments and prime ministers from both sides of politics, beginning with Harold Holt in 1967.

He was Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia at the time of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

He also served as the ambassador to the Philippines, among other ambassadorial postings, before becoming Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations, serving a term as the president of the United Nations Security Council.

He rose to Australia’s most senior diplomatic rank in 1988 to become the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, being a vital player in the establishment of APEC.

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Long after his tenure in the top job came to an end, Woolcott had the ear of all subsequent prime ministers and was assigned a number of formal and informal envoy roles.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985, advancing to a Companion of the Order in 1993.

Woolcott is survived by sons Peter and Robert.

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