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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4947


Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade and Competitiveness, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy) (16:11): In relation to departmental funding, the fact is that the budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am advised, has increased since 2007-08 by $70 million. Any government would like to spend more on just about anything, but the fact is that the decline in commodity prices operating in conjunction with a very high dollar has meant that there have been very substantial write-downs of revenue. When I listened to the opposition leader's budget reply I heard him say, or at the very least heard it said subsequently, that the coalition would be waving through the various savings measures that have been announced by this government. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has departed from that position, I am sure that at the time of the PEFO 10 days into the election campaign those extra expenditures that are being foreshadowed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will be booked to account against the coalition.

In relation to Hungary, this is a decision which with a very large amount of money and no limits on money we would not have made. But in the end you do need to make decisions to achieve the budget bottom line that we have set out in the 2013-14 budget. In that tight fiscal environment the department, like all government agencies, has been subject to savings to offset new budget measures. We do not take lightly any decision to close a post. Budapest is one of our smallest posts and we will continue to serve the bilateral relationship well from other missions nearby. The embassy is scheduled to be closed by the end of September 2013 and savings from the closure will be $0.3 million in 2013-14 and around $1.7 million thereafter. In respect of whether the Hungarian government was advised of the announcement in advance, no, the Hungarian government became aware of the closure before formal advice had been conveyed. The Australian Ambassador to Hungary, His Excellency John Griffin, was directed to advise the Hungarian government of the decision on Monday, 13 May immediately ahead of the budget announcement on 14 May. DFAT was also scheduled to convey the decision to the Hungarian ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Anna Maria Siko, on 13 May. The closure of the embassy was reported in the Age on Monday, 13 May and then confirmed by Senator Carr on ABC radio that morning.

In relation to Senegal, we are already establishing a presence in Senegal. We will be establishing that as promised in 2013. We expect to operate from temporary premises initially. We anticipate it will take a year or two until a suitable location or a chancelry is identified and work can commence on establishing a permanent presence. These time frames are pretty standard for a post opening. Again, we have committed to a post in Senegal. We are going ahead with that commitment.

In relation to job cuts at the department, obviously it is in the interests of the department and of the government to minimise any impact on jobs. We believe that the officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are highly valued and highly professional people. It is, let us say, a supreme irony that I am getting a question from the opposition about job cuts in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when that political party has committed to job cuts of 20,000 people—which would have an enormous impact on Canberra, on the ACT and on house prices. To be lectured about job cuts by an opposition that is committed to cutting 20,000 people's jobs is a bit rich.

I will seek to answer the remaining questions by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the UN Security Council—to the extent that it is feasible to do so—on notice. In relation to posts more generally, under this government the following posts have been opened: the Holy See, Mumbai, Chennai and Addis Ababa, and we are opening Chengdu and Senegal. (Time expired)