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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Page: 110

Mrs MOYLAN (5:02 PM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the 19th report for 2006 of the committee, relating to the proposed extension and accommodation upgrade to the existing chancery of the Australian Embassy in Beijing, China.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper

Mrs MOYLAN —by leave—This report addresses the extension and refurbishment of the chancery at the Australian Embassy, Beijing, at an estimated cost of $21.61 million. China is increasingly occupying a more important position in Australia’s international relations. It is a relationship that is fast expanding and is based on the complementary nature of our economies. The Australian government also recognises the potential gains from our cooperation with China in many forums and the role that China plays in the North Asian region.

Our presence in China must reflect the importance we place on that relationship, and that includes the Australian Embassy in Beijing. The current chancery building was constructed by the Australian government in 1992 and since then pressures on the office accommodation arising from increasing numbers of staff have produced a situation where it is now a priority for major works to be undertaken to address the needs of attached agencies as well as staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

To illustrate this point, when the chancery was first occupied in 1992, staffing included 30 Australian based officers and less than a dozen locally engaged staff. Currently, there are 47 Australian based staff and 200 local employees. Although the department has sought to keep pace with the growth in staffing, including the construction of a temporary annex, the conversion of unused staff apartments to office space and an auditorium in the main chancery building to office space, overcrowding of accommodation has remained an issue.

The proposed extension will rectify the current circumstances. It is intended that the temporary annex and two staff apartments that have been previously been converted to office accommodation will be demolished and replaced with a new three-level extension to the existing chancery of 2,400 square metres. In addition to the construction works, new mechanical, electrical and plumbing services will be provided to the new extension and existing services upgrade. The department has also informed the committee that some ancillary works, including security and improved energy conservation measures, would be implemented that would also offer considerable improvements in the conditions that previously existed. These works will be undertaken within the approved estimate.

The committee sought assurances that the proposed work would meet future staffing requirements. Clearly, the issue of future staffing growth is problematic for the department. In an overseas environment it is seldom possible to lease secure premises that offer the required facilities. However, the departmental position was that the new extension and the refurbishments to be undertaken of the existing chancery building will, based on current information, offer a solution to the problems experienced in the past. Although acknowledging that it had little control over the numbers of staff posted to the embassy in Beijing, the department explained that an additional 100 square metres of floor space had been allowed for that could be used for additional offices.

In terms of the timing of the proposal, the committee expressed some reservations over the delivery of the new works, particularly since final occupancy would not occur until October 2010. The department informed the committee that this timetable was due to a number of external factors, including protracted negotiations over the possibility of the embassy being located to another and larger site, which was rejected on the grounds of cost to the Australian government in redeveloping a new site, and a moratorium imposed on major building works other than those associated with the Beijing Olympics by the Chinese authorities in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Overall, the committee was satisfied that the proposed works represent value for money. Taking into account the extent of the work proposed, the improvements in working conditions that will result and delivering an improvement in available office space for the staff of the embassy, both locally engaged and Australian based, the proposal represents money well spent.

On behalf of the committee, I recommend that the extension and refurbishment of the chancery at the Australian Embassy, Beijing, proceed at an estimated cost of $21.6 million. I wish to thank my committee colleagues and all those who assisted with the public hearing, and I commend the report to the House.