House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Australian Embassy in Hungary

1:12 pm

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

In a perfect world I would have embassies in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and every European post, but we do not live in a perfect world—and, quite frankly, a lot of this emotion we just heard might be better targeted towards the cause of Ukrainians in this country: a nation of 50 million people, for which the Ukrainian diaspora has been campaigning for an embassy. Decisions have to be made. It is all right for those opposite to put on the histrionics here today, put on the screaming and shouting, and threaten that there is going to be some electoral impact of this.

We heard a few figures from over there. The first point is that the census shows 67,000, not 70,000—and certainly not a quarter of a million—of people of Hungarian extraction in this country. As I say, I am a person who would support enhanced expenditure in the foreign affairs department. But we have an opposition which is slanderously conducting itself with regard to budgetary management in this country, which constantly calls for cutbacks, which says that the government must go into balance. This $1.7 million cannot be isolated from the general cutbacks in the foreign affairs department—each and every one of them can probably have champions to ask the government to go back to its earlier start. I am not for one moment denying the Hungarian contribution in this country, from Frank Lowy to, in the contemporary world, Les Murray, whose family is a good model of language retention in this country. I heard him on ABC radio years ago noting how his parents insisted that Hungarian only be spoken in the house, while the parents went off and learned English very effectively.

It is worth noting that on 13 May the Hungarian government—the Fidesz Party, a very conservative regime—put on the public record their analysis of this closure. They noted that Hungary itself had had to close a number of foreign missions. They further noted that Hungary was convinced that bilateral relations would be maintained at their current excellent level. We have had to have other priorities, I am afraid. We cannot just ignore major requirements of this country, such as building a more secure purpose-built residential accommodation in Kabul. Would they condemn our diplomats to the threat of violence and murder instead of this closure? We have the situation of constructing a more secure High Commission in Kenya. Once again, Nairobi is a target of terrorist activity. Would they say that our diplomats' protection is less important than this embassy? We also, of course, sought to re-establish our international focus with the 2013 moves towards establishing new missions in Chengdu in China and Dakar in Senegal, West Africa. I actually think they are probably, on balance, more important priorities. As I say, I would be the last person to decry the need for embassies in more countries around the world, but in strange circumstances—and with a cutback in government taxation revenues—we have decisions to make. This kind of pathetic appeal to electoral constituencies is to be condemned.

I want to in some ways distance myself from some aspects of the motion on another front. Yes, Hungary, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has historically moved towards democratic measures. However, all is not rosy. The European Commission's president, Jose Manuel Barroso, has said recently that measures in Hungary 'raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards.' The Council of Europe itself has asked Hungary to postpone constitutional changes. The US State Department has said that changes in Hungary 'threaten to undermine democratic government.' In recent years, we have seen constitutional changes to lower the age of judges, to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court and to restrict election campaigning to only state media.

When I was there, on a study tour, I saw how the Jobbik party, which is a fascist anti-Semitic and anti-Roma group, had grown. It was getting up to 14 per cent of the vote in national elections. One of the more worrying proposals by the government—I am not sure whether they brought this in in the end—was that they were going to appoint a government financial-economic committee for a 10-year duration. If there was to be an election defeat for the current government, that three-person commission could have forced a new election if they did not agree to the budgetary moves of the new government. There are concerns about the growth of anti-Semitism and the way in which Roma are being excluded in society. Hilary Clinton presented an award to a Roma female deputy for her campaigning for Roma rights in Hungary.

Yes, in a perfect world I would like to see a post in Hungary. Hungary is a central nation in the Central and Eastern Europe bloc of nations and it has historical measures that are quite important to world culture. But decisions have to made and, on balance, I think this decision was correct.


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