House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Australian Embassy in Hungary

1:01 pm

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker McClelland—or should I more appropriately refer to you as Your Honour in waiting? I certainty hope that you receive the position that you are entitled to. I would also like you to pass along to your father my personal thanks for his letter of congratulations to me on my appointment as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The honourable member for Fairfax and I have not always agreed on everything. However, we strongly agree that the decision made in the budget to close the Australian embassy in Hungary was one of the most stupid decisions that any government in this country has made. Embassies have been closed by parties on both sides of government, and none of us support the fact that we are reducing Australia's diplomatic footprint throughout the world. We have a situation where we struggled to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and part of the reason for that was that we do not have representation in the countries which we expect to vote for us. The stupidest thing about this particular decision is that the embassy in Hungary costs Australia a relatively small amount of money and the government will not actually close the embassy until 14 days before the 14 September election. That obviously is going to have an amazing effect on the 250,000 people in Australia who have Hungarian origins. My colleague the member for Fairfax and his family fled from Hungary following the communist takeover in 1946, I think. But we have a situation where, as a nation, we do not have, for a country of our size, anywhere near enough overseas missions and embassies.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

It is a shame. But the honourable member for Kooyong would know that both parties are responsible for the fact that we have nowhere near enough representation throughout the world for a country of our size. Given the fact that I have five minutes to speak I obviously cannot go through all of the points of the motion. But I have to say: why was Hungary singled out? Hungary is a key country in central Europe. Hungary has supported us for our election to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. Hungary is opening a further mission in Melbourne to highlight the relationship between our two countries. I must say that I believe that foreign ministers on both sides of politics must be extraordinarily frustrated by the fact that the department of finance and the Treasury insist on constantly reducing Australia's representation throughout the world.

I want to place on record my very high regard for Ms Anna Siko, the Hungarian ambassador here in Australia. She is doing a wonderful job representing her community and representing Hungary in Australia. I also want to thank His Excellency Mr John Burgess, the Australian Ambassador to Hungary.

This is a really stupid, dumb decision. Why on earth would any government want to burn 250,000 Australian-Hungarians 14 days before the government faces one of the more challenging elections that it has faced? It is unbelievable, it is totally unacceptable and I believe that the Australian community simply believes that it is wrong that we should be closing the Australian Embassy in Hungary.

We have, through Hungary, a conduit into Central Europe. Hungary, through Australia, has a conduit to the Asia-Pacific region. We are countries which now share democratic values. In fact, we have encouraged Hungary to be a democratic nation. As Speaker, last year, I lead a delegation to Hungary. I had access to the highest levels of the Hungarian government. I must say that I was particularly impressed with the way that Hungary regarded Australia and the way that Australian-Hungarians regarded the bilateral relationship between Hungary and Australia.

I do make a last-minute plea to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as I have made many pleas to many ministers in this government, to reverse this retrograde decision. It is dumb politically for the government on 14 September but, more importantly, it is a very unwise decision from the point of view of the bilateral relationship.


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