Daughter of JB and ME Woodroffe, Alison Broinowski was educated at The Wilderness School, the University of Adelaide (BA), and the Australian National University. She joined the Department of External Affairs in 1963 and in that year married Richard Philip Broinowski. She has worked as Cultural Attaché,Tokyo (1983-5), Head of the Japanese Section, Dept Foreign Affairs and Trade (1986-7), Director of the Aust-Japan Foundation (1987-8), Chargé d'Affaires, Amman(1988), Counsellor to the UN in New York (1989-90), and journalist with the Canberra Times. She has lived in Japan, Burma, Iran and the Philippines, and travelled in Europe and the US as a journalist. She returned to Australia and has worked as Regional Director, Dept Foreign Affairs and Trade, Melbourne since 1991. In 1995 she was Visiting Fellow at the Aust Defence Force Academy.
Broinowski has written several works on Asian/Australian relations, including The Yellow Lady: Australian Impressions of Asia (1992) and About Face: Asian Accounts of Australia (2003); and on Australian/American relations, including Howard's War (2003) and Allied and Addicted (2007). She has also edited books on ASEAN. She has contributed to several radio programs, including Ockham's Razor (in 1988, 1991), Books and Writing (in 1991) and First Edition (in 1994). She has received several literary grants including a Visual Arts Board Grant (1987); ANU Visiting Fellowship (1987); Academic Humanities Grant (1987); Korea Research Foundation Grant (1988); Yonsei Univ Research Associateship (1988). She has been on several Festival Boards, and has chaired the Melbourne Writers' Festival Board.