Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Australia's overseas representation

WILLOX, Mr Innes Alexander, Chief Executive Designate and Director, International and Government Relations, Australian Industry Group


CHAIR: On behalf of the committee, welcome. Do you have any comments on the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Willox : I am the Director of International and Government Relations for the Australian Industry Group. I am also the Chief Executive Designate of the Australian Industry Group.

Mr RUDDOCK: Designate.

CHAIR: We were wondering about that before.

Mr Willox : I am not sure which hat I will wear while I am here. I am Ai Group on one hand. I am a former chief of staff. I am a former diplomat. So I can give you a whole lot of different perspectives.

CHAIR: You have a document before you which contains some procedural advice to witnesses. No doubt you will be more than familiar with it. Before proceeding to questions, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Willox : Thank you, Mr Chair. I will just make a couple of comments, which will cover terrain that no doubt some of you will be very familiar with. The issue of posts, where posts go and leveraging the different priorities is obviously a keen one as part of the process of government. It is of course subject to budget processes more than anything else, but, when you look at what drives the establishment of posts of embassies, high commissions or consulates, Austrade offices or AusAID offices, it is political and economic needs, current and future and a little bit in the past, too—historical references and keeping up those relationships.

On the trade links, how those are changing from year to year and decade to decade and consular responsibilities: often there are a lot of posts where we do not have a lot of commercial trade or AusAID needs but we have very significant consular responsibilities. The one I think of first and foremost there might well be Beirut, Lebanon, given our historic ties there and the amount of population flow between the two countries. That was borne out in 2005, after the latest iteration of the civil war there.

There are a couple of points I would just like to make to start with. One is that we have a relatively small number of posts compared to some of our peers. We are in the 80 to 85 or 90 range, compared to Canada, which has well over 120 and is a country of about the same size and diplomatic weight. Having experienced this, and in my current position, I give a lot of consideration to the linking between DFAT posts and Austrade posts. Sometimes they pass like ships in the night. Their rationales are completely different, and there is not a lot of linkage between the two, which perhaps could be better. It is a little bit the same with AusAID.

The other aspect, too, is where the states and the state representations come into play as well. What do they do? How do they perform their role, and how do they link in with the national purpose, the national interest? I was very interested in hearing your discussion before with Jeff Hart about Africa. We would argue very much that the future posting decision should be based on our trade—you have to go?

CHAIR: Yes, the bells are ringing for a division.

Mr Willox : I will wait for you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Willox. We will be back.

Proceedings suspended from 17:54 to 18:01

CHAIR: We will reconvene. I believe you were midway through your submission, Mr Willox.

Mr Willox : I got to the interaction with the states, which can be very valuable if it is done properly in coordination with the Commonwealth representatives. Quite often, in my experience, we have seen the states run off and do their own thing at their own time in a very competitive fashion and perhaps not in the overall national interest.

The other point I would make from an overview is about the LE staff. We have far more LES in posts than A-based. Those LE staff are, as you would expect, variable in quality. From my perspective, there probably needs to be a much more coordinated effort put into getting them to understand the Australian dynamic and what the Australian environment is like. You quite often see that they do not quite have their heads in the right places, particularly related to the latest political or economic developments in Australia or just generally what is going on in Australia. There is a great vagueness there in many cases.

With my Australian Industry Group hat on: our members are very diverse. We are in manufacturing, construction, defence, food, IT, IT services and mining services. A significant portion of our members are involved in the resources sector but as support to the major mining companies. So their trade and economic interests and export interests outside Australia are very much reflective of our national trade flows, particularly into Asia—South-East Asia, India, China, Korea and Japan—and then there are the traditional markets of the United States, and then Europe to a lesser extent. Their interests are reflective of our broader trade flows and their interests are much more beyond capitals than you would imagine. They are much more regionally focused and quite often in quite small towns and small areas where they have distinctive markets.

Do they rely on departmental or Austrade advice and support? Sometimes. Do they like to know it is there? Yes. Do they like to know that it is readily accessible? Yes. What are they looking for from those posts? They are looking for local market information, contacts on regulatory issues, particularly local politics and economics, and information about how to gain approvals. All of these things key into doing business. They are very practical concerns that they are interested in. They are looking for contacts, but particularly at a local level. The bigger posts can do that to some extent, but the more regional posts are overall better at doing that, and those that are linked in with Austrade are particularly beneficial. So it is trying to get those linkages right. Where should we look to new posts? You may have heard this before but the focus for us should be into Asia, into those new trade markets. I heard the previous witness talking about Africa. It is of marginal interest, quite frankly. It is of some interest, but once you get beyond South Africa it is of really quite marginal interest.

Mr RUDDOCK: But you're not involved in mining, are you?

Mr Willox : Mining services; that is for our members. But I would say Asia and, still in the United States, just personally speaking I think there is a very strong case to put a post in Houston. That is pretty obvious to me, having lived and worked there, and I would argue strongly for that. But then, again, we come back to budgetary pressures. I am happy to take any questions.

CHAIR: When the banks were giving evidence they said business into countries has to be driven from the boardroom. I am just wondering if we are missing out on opportunities partly because those linkages are not there between our diplomatic network on the one side and business on the other. Do you think there are opportunities going begging, or that we are missing out on, not just because we do not have posts but because we do not have linkages between corporate Australia and DFAT?

Mr Willox : It is a good question. This might come across as overly harsh, and I will probably regret saying it, but the two operate in parallel universes in some ways. They have different core objectives. Business decisions are directed from the boardroom, but then as you go down and actually implement them they are done on the ground, and that is where those linkages are really important to find the contacts and to get started. If you look at DFAT's mandate and talk to ambassadors on the whole their first remit is political and economic relationships, and then business flows from that. That is where Austrade comes in and is much more important.

The Austrade review which was released late last year is one that we view as a very positive document because it does put a focus on those new and emerging markets where Australian trade is likely to flow and where the greatest amount of support is needed. So are opportunities going begging? Perhaps they are, but there are a variety of reasons for that. Companies make their own decisions too about how much linkage they want to have with the posts and embassies. Sometimes some companies are not very good at doing that; others are.

Mr RUDDOCK: There is a degree of special interest pleading and I am a little concerned, and the arguments I put are intended to tease out what we are about rather than indicating my own view. If we were looking to get objective evidence about where Australia might best be served by additional posts and if we were looking for it in the context of budgetary restraints, alternatives and other areas of the budget that might have less priority for spending, where would you look for that sort of advice? At the moment we are getting all the special pleading.

Mr Willox : That is a good question because you could get different advice from different places and that would, in turn, turn into a little bit of special pleading as well. In terms of where posts are, I think the individual business councils are quite good because they can tell you where markets are being driven and directed, so they would be a good starting point. In terms of business itself, I think you have to look at where business is going: where do they seek opportunities and why are they seeking them in those markets? What is the push factor and what of the pull factors? Resources companies are going heavily into not just Africa but also Latin America. Why is that? That is because that is where demand is. Banks are looking to where they can access capital and drive capital. Industry is looking for markets where there is a growing middle class in particular, to sell quality goods and services into those markets. Everyone has a different motivation for moving into different markets, and that is why you will get some of the special pleading. There is one area that I did not mention. I think the business perspective—and I hear it more and more—is about the very small posts, maybe the A base posts. There is always a lot of questions. Why are they there? What good can they do for me because they are so small and they are, by their nature, so stretched? So do you go into a new post with one person posted and a couple of LES or do you make a conscious decision and load up into that market? There are competing objectives.

Mr RUDDOCK: One of the submissions we have had suggests that we reduce defence expenditure to pay for additional missions.

Mr Willox : Competing objectives!

Mr RUDDOCK: Yes. I am wondering whether the AiG has a view about that.

Mr Willox : A lot of our members are defence companies and I would not want to play one off against another. But what is the national benefit of having a post? What are you looking for? That is really the question you are asking there. Are you looking for pure reporting which goes into government, into the bowels of DFAT and never gets heard of again? Are you looking for commercial outcomes? Are you looking for consular outcomes? What is your driving force behind it to allow you to make assessments? We would argue that the trade outcomes are really important because they get our economic lifeblood here at home flowing. It is the old 'we're an island' argument. We need to export, and we need assistance to export.

Mr RUDDOCK: Do you think organisations like yours would be averse to having to contribute to missions, to enable a broadening of their commercial activity?

Mr Willox : As in funding?

Mr RUDDOCK: Yes, contributing. I suggested that to the miners. We are often arguing that miners ought to make a larger contribution.

Mr Willox : Wouldn't that be contrary though to the national objective of impartial advice and it not being loaded up? You could get all sorts of subjects of bribery and corruption if you are contributing to a post for an outcome so 'money buys an outcome'. That might skew the objectives of the post. We have had people attached to posts in overseas countries before. They have not been directly attached to an embassy but have worked very closely with the embassy. That is something we have done.

Mr RUDDOCK: Somebody like me might find it very difficult to be arguing for additional expenditure in relation to a whole lot of missions when, in another breath, we are saying government expenditure ought to be more constrained.

Mr Willox : I do not think I am necessarily arguing on our behalf that more money should go into posts.

Mr RUDDOCK: I see.

Mr Willox : I am not saying that at all.

Dr STONE: I am very interested in that question. Therefore can you tell us this. How could we have greater efficiencies in the posts? We have heard about the cable culture where people are not risk managers and are totally risk averse, and so the media is constrained and everyone is in this cone of silence and there is a lot of bureaucracy that could be dealt with. Can you give us some sense of how you would save funds so things become more effective and efficient in our posts if it is not a matter of purely pumping more dollars in at one end?

Mr Willox : You can pump money in and you can get a better outcome; you can do that, but I think we are all grown-ups operating in a fiscally constrained period. If some people had their way we would have 192 posts in 192 countries—and that is just not feasible. So where do you allocate your resources? Where do you get—to use that horrible phrase—the biggest bang for your buck? So what are our key markets? Who are our key trading partners? It goes back to objective analysis of why we have posts. How do they link in together—the Austrade component, the DFAT component, the AusAID component and the Defence component? So how do they all link in and how do they better rationalise their resources? I think it comes back a little bit to what I said before. I think you have got to ask this about those small posts: do they provide benefit or are you better bringing in some of those in the outlying countries or are you better off bringing them back closer to home to the markets that matter while perhaps putting consulates or other offices in those markets? So it is about having a hard-headed rigorous analysis of what we are trying to achieve here.

Dr STONE: So you are suggesting that there is a minimum size for an embassy or a high commission to be effective, in fact—

Mr Willox : Yes, to be truly effective.

Dr STONE: to be truly effective—not to give a three-person outfit in Ghana 10 countries that they are committed to?

Mr Willox : Yes. That is a hard one. How can you expect them to, quite seriously? They will have the occasional successes, but the pressure on them to deliver over 10 countries is just enormous. That then, quite frankly—and I have spoken to businesspeople about this—dilutes their confidence in the post to be able to make a rigorous analysis of what they need or want, because they are spread so thin.

Dr STONE: And you cannot pump that effectiveness up with locally engaged staff or honoraries because, as you have said, they are not—

Mr Willox : I have a very jaundiced view of honoraries myself. I am not quite sure if they have much effect at all in a real, overall sense, except a feelgood factor. Locally engaged staff—it goes back to my point about their really understanding what the Australian wants and needs are, and that is not always quite there. It is hard to find.

Mr RUDDOCK: Going back to a former life—

Mr Willox : Which one?

Mr RUDDOCK: do you think Finance and Treasury might have some views on this sort of subject matter and might have done some objective work that could be useful to guide us?

Mr Willox : As you know, when you go into an ERC meeting and put up a case for a new post, the first thing Finance say is: 'Why? What's the value? What's the net economic value of this?' And you have to argue that through. They take the view that, unless it is completely beyond argument that we have a need for a post in a certain place, we should not have it.

Mr RUDDOCK: So you do not think they have any objective evidence; they just—

Mr Willox : I do not think they have any objective evidence. I think they have—

Mr RUDDOCK: They just ask the questions.

Mr Willox : I think they have a very subjective, Finance view of the world. It is the trade-off. Why should we spend $5 million here when we could spend it there?

Mr RUDDOCK: Treasury might take the view that, if you have additional activity generated through a commercial attache of some sort, Austrade or whatever, we get extra taxes. They do not like hypothecating.

Mr Willox : That is a hard analysis to make. I remember that in a former life we set up a post in Kazakhstan, which was an interesting one, but that was backed off commercial rationales. There was a Telstra contract there and BHP were looking to put a pipeline through there, so a decision was made essentially to go and support that. And then the decision was made after three years that that had not worked, for a variety of reasons, not just the post's fault. The guy who ran the post is a very senior diplomat now, but it just did not work. The expense just did not stack up in terms of numbers. The financial returns to Australia just were not there to warrant it.

Mr RUDDOCK: Would there be an analysis in relation to all of the suggestions that are being made to us about where posts should go that would enable us to use that sort of analysis?

Mr Willox : Not that I am aware of—nothing as rigorous as that. If you find one, let me know!

Ms BRODTMANN: I am interested in your comments about Austrade, AusAID and DFAT often operating in parallel universes. Can you just give us some examples of that? If you could throw in a bit of a state or territory mix, that would be good too.

Mr Willox : From my experience in a variety of guises, Austrade, DFAT and AusAID have different objectives. They are set with core objectives. They are competing objectives too. There is the story—I am sure you know better than me; it must be apocryphal—of the ambassador at quite a major post being taken around when he was leaving his post, being taken downstairs and being told he had to say goodbye to the Austrade people now, and he said, 'Oh, do we have Austrade here?' after three years in the post. Seriously—it was quite serious. There are not often linkages between the three because the DFAT people have their political perspectives and Austrade have their commercial perspectives, and what that commercial perspective is is always the subject of question and dispute. Are they there to facilitate business? Are they there to drive business? Are they there to report back on business conditions in their home country? The AusAID people are doing God's work, as AusAID do. There are often not the linkages between the three. I know that at the moment in AusAID they have set up a business steering committee, which I am on, to try to build relationships with business in AusAID because they have recognised from their last review that they do not really have one, and that has been a continuous bugbear. So you have all these competing objectives and suspicions about what the others are up to, and that comes across quite often in places; they are not talking to each other. You will find it quite often in places.

Turning to the states, I have good examples of the states working well with the Commonwealth and examples of states going off to do their own thing and competing against each other and against the Commonwealth to attract business, which is just infuriating in many cases. But the states have worked well with the Commonwealth, and there is my own example of Los Angeles, where we were able to drive some really good outcomes because we were a unity ticket.

What you find in posts is that the states do not carry as much weight as the Commonwealth. So if you were a representative of the Commonwealth, you would get the door open; if you were a representative of state X, more often than not the person they are trying to open the door from will come back to you to say: 'Who is this person? Do I trust them? Should I speak to them?' You would hear that all the time. That is how you find out a lot about what the states are up to, because it would come back to you in that way. The states are competing purely in their own interests all the time. They will take a very hard-headed, parochial view.

Mr RUDDOCK: Given that you have been in the field and given that a lot of our postings are historic and so the expenditure has been established and committed, have you looked very much a rationalisation? For instance, I said the other day that maybe we should have the united states of Europe, not the European Community but the united states of Europe, and have one post, which might be in Brussels, and then you might have a number of consulates. So you do not have another mission trying to share in other countries you just have a consulate in, say, Paris and London.

Mr Willox : That is a commentary on the ongoing situation in Europe, in some ways, and where Europe will go. I am not sure how the Treaty of Westphalia would look upon that. There are a couple of posts in Europe where I stand back and think, 'Do we really need them in the 21st century?'

Mr RUDDOCK: To pay for Africa and west China?

Mr Willox : Yes, as part of this moving around of resources.

Mr RUDDOCK: Could we develop a report that would suggest that there may be other options? Can you give us some supportive evidence?

Mr Willox : I do not want to single out posts but maybe I will. Why do we have someone in Malta today?

Dr STONE: And not in the Maghreb.

Mr Willox : Yes.

Mr RUDDOCK: They have votes in Greenway.

Mr Willox : Why do we have someone in Copenhagen?

Mr RUDDOCK: Because there is Mary.

Mr Willox : Yes, see. Why do we have someone in Hungary?

Ms BRODTMANN: She can be honorary.

Mr RUDDOCK: But what if we had a different strategic model? That is why I coined the phrase 'united states of Europe', because then you will not have to have other missions which have to be representing. You would have a consulate that has a consular role that services a number of countries?

Mr Willox : I think it is theoretically possible. I do not think anyone else has done it, but somebody has to be the first. We have one embassy in the United States, which is for that country, and one embassy in China. But, then, where would you pick? That is what you have to weigh up. Do you put it in Brussels or Geneva or Berlin or Paris? You would have to make some decisions about that. All those I have mentioned have legitimate cases to have representation.

Mr RUDDOCK: The Europeans made a decision; they have them in Brussels.

Mr Willox : But they still have their posts in different countries. Brussels is the headquarters of Europe, but they still are covered off in each of those markets. I think that is hard one because these are still separate economies of scale, and each have cultural differences—different ways of doing business, different approaches to the globe. I think we need to respect that and take it seriously. But some of the smaller, what I would say were more satellite posts in Europe, you might want to have a hard-headed look at.

Mr RUDDOCK: Take Greece, for instance. It has a big population. There are lots of reasons why you would want to have one there. But I remember when Greece, as part of the European Union, saw itself as being more European than having to deal with its expatriate populations abroad. And after the Sydney Olympic games, we leveraged it for China but we could not leverage it for Greece—notwithstanding the size of the population.

Mr Willox : I have been in that embassy in Greece quite recently, because my wife lost her passport in Greece and had to go in and get a new one. There are three A-based staff in Greece, and that includes somebody who runs the embassy.

Mr RUDDOCK: Well, we could not leverage the Sydney games, because they were not interested.

Mr Willox : No. So that is where you start to make decisions: do we need to be there? So you ask yourself: what is the post in Greece doing now?

Dr STONE: Lost passports, I suppose!

Mr Willox : Lost passports, consular work, visas—all important work, but is it core to the national interest, going to your point? And passports have been centralised in a couple of centres around the world. But there is still that consular need. In somewhere like Greece you definitely need consular support. And probably in the current climate you would send somebody from one of your European capitals to report on what is happening. They have to pick up much more than what comes out of the newspapers.

Mr RUDDOCK: Well, they are still in Africa.

Mr Willox : Yes.

Mr RUDDOCK: Or South America.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: This is getting away from your new role—and congratulations on that! But what is the correlation between the embassies we have overseas and the people that have embassies here? The Swiss embassy springs immediately to mind—the Swiss have quite a big embassy here; and we are unrepresented there. Is there some correlation? If they have one here, shouldn't we have one there?

Mr Willox : No, there is no linkage. North Korea has one here; we don't have one there. Syria still has one here; we don't have one there. There are quite a few examples; that is just decisions they have made. I don't think you need to operate your diplomacy on a quid pro quo basis.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Although they always use that as a reason why we should have an embassy in their country.

Mr Willox : Yes, it is a very common argument; but if you were to do that then our resources would be spread very thin. They are coming here for their own hard-headed economic or geopolitical reasons, you would expect. You quite often hear from an ambassador from one of those types of countries where we do not have postings that they are here in fact to try and work out with us what is going on with our bigger neighbour to the west, with whom we are close. It is just part of their geopolitical decision to come here. But we should not operate our foreign policy or diplomacy on that basis.

CHAIR: You talked a bit about the general culture of DFAT and this rationalisation issue, and about this question of how governments generally arrive at where they put posts and the like. While we are holding an inquiry here today, do you think there is a need for a broader, more systematic look at the diplomatic footprint over the next two decades? Have we just started to do that? And there is the resourcing issue as well, because it is hard to quantify.

Mr Willox : There is a function of history here. Before budget time there would come a submission from DFAT that would say, 'If you happen to get some extra money, these are the top 10 priority posts,' and they would list them and it would be as simple as Belarus, Estonia and Latvia and you would have to work out why they thought they were important, and you would go backwards and forwards. But they had their own competing interests. Peru is a classic case. We have been in and out of Peru a few times and now they are an APEC member so we are back in. A lot of this is historical. The size of some of our posts overseas is a function of history. I would posit the question: are those resources better placed to be a reflection of the 21st century economy, globally, and also our economy? Those are probably some hard-headed decisions to make, because it is going to annoy some of our old historical friends and partners when we follow the suggestion and start pulling embassies out of European places, for instance.

CHAIR: Also, we have got evidence that we are underdone in China, underdone in Indonesia—

Mr Willox : Yes. China, India, Indonesia and more generally across South-East Asia.

CHAIR: That is partly a function of rationalisation but it is partly a function of resources. Is it a question that no-one is taking a broader look or that as a country we have not?

Mr Willox : No, we have not had a rigorous analysis perhaps because of what it might reveal.

Dr STONE: Do you think we are underdone in the UN as well? We have had some representations that we are very thin on the ground in the UN and we have interns sitting at the table with diplomats from other countries and this is an embarrassment to us and so on. Have you got any view about that?

Mr Willox : From my experience, no. I think the UN post is about right. I do not think there has ever been any issue about the size of the UN post. But that might be my own personal jaundiced view coming through. The other issue on representation that I want to mention—and I think it is something that the current government has identified quite strongly—is the language skills within posts. I think sometimes they are lacking. I remember we had the quite interesting situation at one point of our ambassador in China speaking fluent Japanese and our ambassador in Japan speaking fluent Chinese. They could not speak the language of the country they were in and it was always an issue. But I think that is something that we really do need to address early on, because there is benefit, especially at that high level of ambassadors being able to speak the language. That is something that I would encourage.

CHAIR: How would we encourage it?

Mr Willox : Training, and it is just the resourcing—getting in early with people in DFAT and getting them to speak the language. That would go with the head of Commercial as well.

CHAIR: One of the things that has come up at the Asian language debate, for instance, is that we would be better off, rather than teaching a lot of kids a little bit of language, actually taking people out and putting them in a country for a year. Do you think there is some virtue in having a program where potential employees do that at university—or something like that?

Mr Willox : Absolutely, and as part of identification of potential recruits as well. I just had a very senior executive of one of our big members ring me up to say he was resigning. I said, 'What are you resigning for?' and he said, 'We have made a decision as a company that if we are going to survive, thrive and prosper, we have got to have good Mandarin speakers. I am going off to learn Mandarin for 12 to 18 months in China. I will come back and hopefully I will get my job back and we can grow again.' I have heard this quite a few times from different companies. These are quite big companies. They are making the effort to develop their own internal skills, because they have recognised that that is what they have got to do to grow. I think DFAT is the same—not in terms of its economic growth but in terms of its growth in influence on the ground.

Ms BRODTMANN: DFAT does that—

Mr Willox : They do that.

Ms BRODTMANN: They do immersion—

Mr Willox : They do a lot of immersion.

Ms BRODTMANN: The challenge you have got, though, is that it is a significant investment and then they go to that posting and it is usually for one term, possibly two, later in their career. You make that significant investment but you do not want your diplomat going native. They are there to represent Australia's national interests, be it in trade, consular or political.

Mr RUDDOCK: How do they go native learning a language?

Ms BRODTMANN: No, it was suggested that if you are going to make an investment you will keep them there. In a commercial environment you can keep that person there for 10 or 15 years; that would be their life. In a diplomatic environment it is different; you do not do that.

Mr Willox : The other problem they have, quite frankly, is that they will immerse people, particularly before a first posting. Then they will go off and do the posting, come back and leave. I think there is about a 50 per cent attrition rate.

Dr STONE: Yes, particularly after that first five years, you will find. In fact, the more able, the more likely.

Mr Willox : The thought of coming back to three more years of running the photocopier drives them insane. I have heard this so many times. But the big investment has been made, so they have come away and they can speak Japanese, Korean or whatever, and then they go and do other things, and go into the commercial sphere. That is a big problem for DFAT.

Ms BRODTMANN: Or, if they do have to come back, they decide, 'No, I don't want to do that.' Particularly in Indonesia and China you see them going off and working with BHP and others so they can stay.

Mr Willox : Maybe you need to look at, dare I say it, some sort of career development.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, some continuation.

CHAIR: Is that linked to the resourcing? Is a function of the fact that we are so low down the scale in the Lowy report in comparison to G20 nations that there are not enough opportunities here for, as you said, young diplomats, who are coming back to run the photocopier?

Mr Willox : I am being flippant there.

CHAIR: There are not defined career paths there, or we are not quick enough ourselves.

Mr Willox : I think that is a problem. The policy in DFAT at the moment—I am not talking about DFAT—is to not cross-post people. So you do go away on a posting and come back to Canberra and all that entails—and slogging it out for another two or three years before you get another posting, which will probably not be to the place where you learnt your language in the first place, to broaden you out. So it is this vicious cycle. I have had a lot of, in my time, the youngsters about 30 say, 'I just can't stand it anymore,' because of that churn and that lack of them being able to specialise in some way. It is a hard one, because DFAT is trying to broaden them out. But I think, particularly at that high level, the language skills are really important. Our members see it all the time. They are always seriously impressed if they go to a meeting with the ambassador, the first secretary or the trade counsellor and they can speak the language. That is a big in. It gives them confidence in the place.

Dr STONE: Have you observed any other country—perhaps Canada, the UK or some other like-minded country—that does it better than us in terms of career management, language skill acquisition, secondments to and fro, commerce and so on?

Mr Willox : The UK is interesting. They have an interesting model. From what I am aware of from talking to British diplomats and others, they do seem to do it better. I do not know why. They do seem to keep people longer in the system. That would be the one I would have a look at. It is interesting: I was talking to some British diplomats not all that long ago about career paths, career progressions and that sort of thing, and they were really complimentary about how the British system handles it. They do go into cross-postings much more, which keeps people interested.

Dr STONE: When you say 'cross-postings' you mean back-to-back postings.

Mr Willox : Yes. So, if you are in Paris, you go to somewhere else overseas.

Dr STONE: But that runs the risk that the people become disconnected to Australia; Australia becomes other.

Mr Willox : Yes, and that is what you balance it on.

CHAIR: They could not be any more disconnected to Australia than coming to live in Canberra.

Ms BRODTMANN: Exactly! The epicentre. That is the problem!

Mr Willox : That is part of the problem.

Ms BRODTMANN: That is not the reality.

CHAIR: I was only saying that to bait Ms Brodtmann, successfully.

Dr STONE: Ms Brodtmann is the member for Canberra.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, and a long-term Canberra resident, and proud to be.

CHAIR: On that note, we will thank Mr Willox for his evidence, which was most interesting. If there are any matters on which we need some additional information, the secretary will write to you. Thank you.

Mr Willox : Thank you.

Resolved (on motion by Dr Stone):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 18: 40