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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4945


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:06): I do have a number of questions of the minister which I will put to him. If he is unable to answer them now, I do ask that he take them on notice and ensure that they are answered before the parliamentary recess. I refer the minister to the 2013-14 budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Can the minister confirm that funding for the department will decline by one per cent in real terms? Could he advise how much this in dollar terms? Where will the savings be made? Is the minister aware of reports showing funding for the department declining to 0.31 per cent of total government expenditure by 2016-17? Can the minister confirm that this would represent a one third decline in the level of funding when compared to the final year of the Howard government? Could the minister also advise the implications for the department if funding falls to the level projected?

On a matter in Budget Paper No. 2, the section marked 'Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Efficiencies', when was the decision made to close Australia's embassy in Hungary? Why was Hungary chosen for closure? Was a cost benefit analysis carried out? When was the Hungarian ambassador to Australia informed of this decision and who informed the ambassador? Can the minister explain how journalist Dan Flitton came to know of this decision at a time that I suggest was prior to information being provided to the Hungarian ambassador? Is the department investigating how the media came to know of this decision on the morning before I understand the ambassador was told? If not, why not? When was the Australian ambassador to Hungary informed of this decision? When were locally-engaged staff informed of the decision? How many weeks notice have they been given? Will they receive a termination payout and, if so, how much? I ask whether the minister agrees with the statement of the then secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Dennis Richardson who said:

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.

In relation to the proposal to establish an embassy in Senegal, when was the decision taken to postpone the establishment of an embassy in Senegal? Had any planning or construction work taken place? Had the department entered into any contracts regarding the proposed embassy? Had any funds been spent and, if so, how much? Did the department advise the Senegal government that Australia was not going to proceed with the embassy before the government announced it publicly? If so, when was this advice given? Has the Senegal government made any representations to the department on this issue since the government's announcement? Can or will the minister rule out closing other embassies?

I refer to Budget Paper No. 2 and the section marked 'Efficiencies'. According to the budget paper, the government will achieve savings from 'a temporary reduction in Canberra based positions'. How many jobs will be cut at the department in 2013-14? Does the department expect to offer any voluntary redundancies? If so, how many? Will the department have to make any forced redundancies? If so, how many?

As a result of the government funding cuts in 2012-13, the then secretary of the department stated that 100 to 150 jobs would be shed. Can the minister advise how many jobs have been lost at the department this year, how many of these were voluntary redundancies and how much money has been spent on voluntary redundancy payments in total in 2012-13? How much does the department expect to spend next year as a result of these job losses?

On the United Nations Security Council, I refer to the section marked 'United Nations Security Council term'. How much money has been spent to date to support Australia's role on the United Nations Security Council? How many additional positions have been created to support Australia's role on the council? Have all the additional positions being filled?

In relation to the Asian century, I refer the minister to the reference to the implementation of the Australia in the Asian Century white paper and DFAT's strategic directions statement. What resources have been provided to the department to open a full embassy in Mongolia and consulates in China, Thailand and eastern Indonesia? Has the government given any undertakings to the relevant governments about these posts? Why were these locations identified as priorities? Why are they being delayed if they are a priority? What percentage of board members— (Time expired)