Monday, 24 June 2013
Private Members' Business
Australian Embassy in Hungary
This motion was moved by my colleague and neighbour Peter Slipper, the member for Fisher. It is something that we both feel very strongly about. We are in total agreement on this issue. There are issues on which we work together because we have neighbouring electorates. If it is good for our joint electorates, we cooperate—and we are doing that on this occasion.
In the fine print of last month's budget was the decision by this government to close the Australian embassy in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Please do not mistake my highlighting of this issue simply as some sort of sentimentality about my family origins. From both a political and a diplomatic position, this official announcement within the budget is regrettably short-sighted. Why the embassy in Hungary has been caught in this foreign affairs austerity net is baffling.
The bilateral relationship between Australia and Hungary has traditionally been very strong; it has a compelling track record of cooperation and commonality. Hungary visibly backed our nation's bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and Australia has reciprocated by supporting Hungary's candidature. These seemingly unpretentious but important diplomatic bonds, which build our shared international endeavours, should not be undervalued or misjudged. But our relationship on the global stage is much more extensive than most may realise. The paths of Australia and Hungary have also converged, as we have contributed to peace-building efforts in international communities, including Afghanistan. In the uncertainty and tumult of Syria, Hungary has provided consular assistance to our Australian citizens. The planned closure of the Australian embassy belies our enduring convivial association with Hungary.
Geographically, Hungary is strategically located in the heart of Eastern Europe, and the Australian embassy in Budapest is both symbolically and diplomatically integral to the advancing of the economic and cultural relations between our countries for mutual benefit. For Australia, Hungary provides a gateway to central Europe. The embassy is an important part of a suite of diplomatic measures. It is also a conduit for business trade and investment. Similarly, Australia plays a part in presenting Hungary to Asian and Pacific neighbours. It is customary foreign affairs practice. Our ties with Hungary are tangible. Our bilateral relationship has been born from trust, integrity and belief in fellowship. Domestically, there have been a number of key developments—subtle and largely unnoticed as they may be—with social security agreements. There are currently negotiations underway on work and holiday visa arrangements.
Of course the government's assertion is that the closure of our embassy in Budapest will not unduly affect our relationship with Hungary. The planned closure comes at a time when the Hungarian government is opening a consular office in Melbourne to further promote cultural, economic and diplomatic relations. Consequently, my own assertion is that this embassy decision does little to venerate the finesse, the nuances and the courtesy that international relations demand and deserve. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians of Hungarian origin and heritage. They contribute to the diversity, the richness and the prosperity of our way of life. Our embassy presence in Budapest embraced the great Australian concept of mateship. We have an excellent relationship with Hungary and the embassy is symbolic of that. I appreciate the cutbacks are symptomatic of these very tight economic times and there will and must be casualties. Closing the embassy may deliver on this bottom line, but the true cost of this retrograde decision, economically, culturally and diplomatically, is one which I believe we should not pay.