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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12717

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (20:56): On Friday, Australian time, the UN decided Australia would be awarded a temporary seat on the Security Council. This win for Australia occurred, in my view, despite our thin diplomatic presence overseas. The government's decision to seek the seat and the process by which it sought it have been criticised by some. Sceptics have been critical of our timely increase of aid to Africa. Some even complained of us, as they described it, 'wandering around New York with Africans'.

Critically, it is Australia's inventory of underrepresented overseas missions that should be really the focus of our attention, as noted by the superb work of the chairman of this committee, Nick Champion, and his subcommittee. Australia's chronically low level of overseas representation is primarily responsible for the low level of public awareness that this country has overseas. For instance, in Nairobi our excellent ambassador Geoff Tooth has to represent us not only in Kenya but also Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Tanzania. He is Australia's ambassador to 132 million people. No public servant, however dedicated, can do that effectively.

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has also shown that we have been underrepresented in the Maghreb and in Latin America. Our embassy in Moscow is responsible for representation in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Not only are we not represented in the 'stans', as the countries which were once called Soviet Central Asia are now known,but we are no longer represented in Kazakhstan. We briefly had an embassy in Astana in Kazakhstan, but it ceased operating after three years. Ukraine, which is a country of only 55 million people, full of mining engineers—I can hear the mining oligarchs salivating—is bereft of an Australian embassy. The country that has 55 million people has an embassy here, but we have no representative there. They have set aside land for an Australian embassy in Kiev. And you cannot represent Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, who are all slightly antagonistic to Moscow, from Moscow. The poor people in Ukraine have to apply for a visa to Moscow before they have the honour of applying for a visa to Australia—a ridiculous situation given the particular capability of so many of its people in engineering, and particularly in mining, which is of great interest to this country.

Earlier this year, as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I asked the then secretary of the department of foreign affairs, Mr Dennis Richardson, what he would be able to achieve in terms of priorities if we allocated each of three additional increases per year—$25 million, $50 million and $75 million. He responded that with the lowest figure he could seek representation or restart our embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan; Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, which we in fact may do anyhow; Dakar in Senegal; Phuket in Thailand; and Funafuti in Tuvalu.

Let me address the issue of Africa. The most interesting conference in Australia, in my view, is a conference that takes place in Perth once a year called Africa Down Under. Africa Down Under now has 3,000 people attend it, including many, many delegates from across Africa. That is because Australia is a major player in Africa. Africa is not just a group of people wandering around Manhattan, as someone implied when they were denigrating our bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, but it is the only continent that has grown through the global financial crisis. It is a continent where our expertise in mining could certainly be put to great use. People all over the continent are seeking our advice as to how to behave in an open, transparent way in conducting themselves in business relationships, particularly in this new area.

In relation to the second round of funding, Mr Richardson identified that for $50 million he could add Algeria; Luanda, Angola; Chongqing, inland China; Bogota, Colombia; and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania—Tanzania again, where Poor old Geoff Tooth is off representing us. That is a country of 35 million people, a very serious country. They are not just wandering around Manhattan. It too is a country with which Australia should have good relations.

The third suggestion was that for $75 million we could add representation in Rabat, Morocco; Oslo, Norway; and Bern in Switzerland. I do not particularly agree with Oslo or Bern. I think Kiev would be a far more important place for Australian representation from the national interest point of view. But the point is that Australia is poorly represented overseas. We won the bid at the United Nations despite our level of representation.

Taking it to the maximum that we offered in this excellent report of Mr Champion's, $75 million would only take us to a level of representation which is commensurate with our standing in the OECD. We would not be beating our chests; we would simply be represented at the same level as all other countries with comparable economies in the OECD. We are so far out the back of the G20. We rank as the 12th economy in the world but we have the lowest level of overseas representation in the G20. We are the last and out the back by a long shot. This is very short-sighted.

As I said in the newspapers in supporting this report, it is not a matter of thumping our chests; this is a matter of representing Australia in consular terms, in aid terms. We have a very big aid program. In naked self-interest, in trade and business, particularly in Africa, and because Australia is considered an important country that contributes to international good order and peace, a country that is taken very seriously all over the world, as a strong, rich and successful country, it is time for us to step up, implement the findings of this report, take Mr Richardson's suggestions very seriously and extend the good work we have done by being elected to the United Nations by being represented overseas commensurate with our interests. I commend this report to the House.

Debate adjourned.