House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Australian Embassy in Hungary

1:07 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

or 250,000, as the member for Fisher says, with some form of Hungarian relationship. In fact, my mother was born in Hungary, and my father-in-law, Mr Nich Saunders, was also born in Hungary, so I have a close relationship with Hungary through them.

Hungary has been an important bilateral partner for Australia. We have been able to use it as a conduit as we have tried to protect Australian citizens in Syria, as we do not have an up-and-running embassy there at present. Hungary supported us in our campaign for the UN Security Council. As an EU member, it is a particularly important country in the world.

This is a most regrettable decision. The government says that it is doing this because of budgetary constraints. It says that it will need to invest $52.6 million on new residential accommodation in Kabul, as well as $50.6 million for new secure facilities in Kenya. How much is the government saving by closing the embassy in Hungary? According to Dr Emerson, the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, savings from the closure will be $0.3 million in 2013-14 and around $1.7 million thereafter—virtually nothing in the scheme of things.

In fact, the minister for trade has said, in relation to Hungary, 'This is a decision that, with a very large amount of money and no limits on money, we would not have made.' Rubbish! You are saving $1.7 million and you are spending more than $100 million on new facilities. It is absolute rubbish to say that you need to close this embassy! Because you cannot run your own budget, because you cannot run the finances of this country, you have to make a most regrettable decision like this. Australian companies like Cochlear, Macquarie and AMP Capital are all present in Hungary in one way or another, and we are closing an embassy and ending our representation there.

DFAT have said in a Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade inquiry:

… closing a mission saves very little. The reason being, once you have got a mission up and running, your running costs are quite low. It might cost you $25 million over three or four years to open a post but, if 10 years later you were to close that post, you would probably only save about $2 million a year.

So you cannot even close a post properly! This is absolutely ridiculous.

The member for Fisher said that the government's presence overseas is low. This is what Greg Sheridan said when he was interviewing the Minister for Foreign Affairs on Sky on 2 June:

But how is it that the overall budget for Australian diplomacy is so pathetically low? We run a foreign service about the size of Slovenia. We run the smallest per capita foreign service of any OECD country in the world. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is smaller today than either the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Trade were when they were amalgamated in 1986. Yet their consular workload has increased by hundreds and hundreds of per cent.

The embassy in Beijing has not had an increase in resources in 12 years. This Budget we closed another embassy, Budapest, we have a smaller public diplomacy budget in Indonesia than Germany, France and Britain do. We have a smaller Asian diplomatic representation than Germany, France or Britain do, and yet we claim this is our core business.

This is a joke. If we get the chance to form government on 14 September we will run the budget and the finances of this country properly. We will be in a position to finance our posts around the world and expand the footprint of Australia's foreign policy. I have great confidence in Tony Abbott, and great confidence in Julie Bishop, as my colleagues who will ensure that Australia has a proper presence. And what is more, we will not close embassies like this government has done on Hungary with no consultation whatsoever to the detriment of the Australian economy and the Australian people.


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