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Tuesday, 30 November 1976
Page: 3003

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) -We have just listened to one of the rather regular epistles that we hear from the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney). He hands them out to the Press; on some nights he does not get to make a speech. When one hears honourable members opposite talking about the manner in which Australian diplomats abroad are housed- this is the second time tonight that we have heard a similar attack- one wonders whether the present Government is intending to cut back or to cut out diplomatic representation in the countries that have been mentioned. It was a government of the same political colour as the present Government which established those embassies. One wonders also whether the trouble has been taken to consider what the alternative costs are. In at least one country in respect of which similar criticisms were made of our Embassy- I refer to Thailand which I visited last year; India is relevant in this respect also- Australia had set up an establishment as a result of which the whole of its diplomatic corps were housed in the one area. The French undertaking appears to be a similar project which, I would think, would be extraordinarily expensive in Paris, as it would be expensive in Melbourne or Sydney. Indeed, 12 months ago it would have been expensive in Canberra.

When people make accusations of extravagance, I think they have the duty to put forward the alternative costs of housing Australian diplomats in what are major overseas posts of some importance to this country. If the Government does not believe that these overseas posts are of importance, I think it ought to say so and indicate that it is withdrawing sections or substantial sections of the numbers of people who are posted to these areas. This would include officers not only from the Department of Foreign Affairs but also officials from the Department of Overseas Trade and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs among other Australian officials posted overseas for the purpose of pursuing the interests of Australia in those countries. In Paris, Department of the Treasury officials would probably be involved also. It is cheap political gimmickry for an honourable member to stand up here and to talk about excesses in providing accommodation for Australians who are posted overseas if that honourable member is not prepared to say what the alternatives are and what the costs of those alternatives are. It is my opinion, although I have not had the opportunity to study the matter, that it would be far more expensive and be of less value to Australia in the shorter term not to spend the money for this purpose.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 2. IS p.m. tomorrow.

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