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
23/02/2012
Australia's overseas representation

ANDREEVSKI, Mr Ordan, Director, Australian Outreach, United Macedonian Diaspora

CHAIR: I welcome the United Macedonian Diaspora. The committee has resolved that photography is permitted at this session. You have before you the document that provides procedural advice to witnesses. Before proceeding to questions, do you wish to make a short opening statement?

Mr Andreevski : Yes. First of all, I would like to thank each and every one of you for coming to Melbourne and for organising this very important inquiry into Australia's overseas representation. It is important especially for communities such as ours, the Macedonian community, to have a say in the future of Australian foreign policy and in Australian diplomatic representation. Our community is very much interested in and focused on developing closer bilateral relations between Australia and Macedonia but also Australia's relations with South Eastern Europe. We take a regional perspective and work with other communities such as the Turkish community and others in finding common ground and working on common projects. The idea is to integrate Australia with this part of the world. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Savo Sibinoski, the Macedonian consul general, for coming along and also the Australian Macedonian Weekly for their interest in this matter.

I will say a few words about the United Macedonian Diaspora. The United Macedonian Diaspora is an international organisation that was established in 2005 as a joint venture between the Macedonian Diaspora in Australia, the United States and Canada. We have been working on various programs to advance the status of the community and also to develop closer relations between the host society and our former homeland or ancestral land, which is the Republic of Macedonia and other parts of Macedonia. It is basically a community organisation, it is a not-for-profit organisation and is also a charity in the United States and Canada. The emphasis is on humanitarian work and working with various stakeholders to deliver better social, economic and environmental outcomes. I have been with the United Macedonian Diaspora since it was established. I have had the opportunity to meet with various MPs such as Mr Henry Jenkins and Mr Phillip Ruddock, who are members of the Australian Macedonian Parliamentary Friendship Group, and have been really strong supporters of this initiative. Some have visited Macedonia and have welcomed various delegations from Macedonia. That is fantastic, because the parliaments are doing what they are supposed to be doing and that is enhancing Australia's image and reputation in international affairs. I thank the members of parliament for their ongoing support.

I would also like to briefly touch upon a few items that I wrote about in the little introduction. The United Macedonian Diaspora congratulates the Australian parliament for organising this inquiry into Australia's overseas representation. I think it is an important inquiry because it is timely and the challenges that Australia faces are basically constant, irrespective of who the foreign minister is. We have to address the challenges that Australia faces, irrespective of which government is in office, and we need to work together. I have also stated that Australia has an excellent track record of international engagement.

We, as a community, would like to work with Australian institutions such as the parliament, the government and other institutions—universities, think tanks and the media. I am trying to build up Australia's profile and its links with the world. I think Australia has a lot to offer. But there is a need for innovation in terms of how we engage in diplomacy. We are concerned that Australia's diplomatic network has been under-resourced over many years and it is not really positioned to deliver the outcomes that Australia needs in an interconnected and interdependent world. That is why we went to a bit of length to basically prepare a comprehensive submission without making it a PhD program. We try to focus on the main issues and the main points so that we all speak the same language and, hopefully, use plain English in that context.

The message that I would like to pass on as part of my opening statement is that the key to upgrading Australia's diplomatic network is via continuous innovation and continuous co-investment with key stakeholders in Australia and internationally. We need to look at ways in which we can work together in a more collaborative way, development partnerships, co-invest in various projects and value the various inputs that stakeholders can make towards strengthening Australia's overseas representation. On its own it has limited resources and we are living in a world of collaboration and interdependence. That is the message that I would like to convey.

CHAIR: Are there any questions?

Mr RUDDOCK: Congratulations, on a very comprehensive paper that you have written. I am not sure that I agree that we should commission somebody else to do what they have asked us to do. It really brings me to this question of how you judge what the priority should be. I see the arguments that you have advanced about the nature of the matters that we have covered. There ought to be additional resourcing. I see the special pleading for Skopje. I ask myself this question: if I had to have an idea about where we ought to be growing the role, I do not like the idea of saying, 'Well, there is an ambit claim and you can do this, this and this,' because the ambit claim is very wide. What I would like to see is—and I wonder whether you might help with it—the ambit claim, but then to ranked in terms of where our priorities should be in some objective way. Why would Skopje be more important, for instance, now, immediately, than, say, expanding our missions in western China, given its importance in terms of trade and the like?

Why should it be more important than, say, Francophone Africa, given that we have a whole lot of Australian mining companies seeking to get involved there and in competition with China and so on where we are not represented at all. Why should Skorpia get it before—with two million people—against Ukraine with 40 million?

Mr Andreevski : Or 68 million.

Mr RUDDOCK: I really cannot get too many people who say they have critically evaluated where DFAT is and think that we could in fact expand our footprint here if we closed it down there. And do you have any ideas about we would in fact be reducing our footprint? One of the things that I suggested, jocularly some think, given that Europe is so less important in economic terms in comparison to Asia, why shouldn't we be expanding our missions in Asia and just have one mission in Europe—in Brussels—to deal with our European work?

Mr Andreevski : I read the Lowy Institute report and their submission on this issue, and they raised a number of important points. Australia, basically for historical reasons, has far greater representation in Europe than we should have than, for example, in Asia and the Pacific where the growth is and where Australia's future is. I agree with that way of thinking in a sense there is scope for rationalisation. But I also believe that there is scope for expansion without necessarily creating massive budgets. I would like to use the example of the Australian Embassy in Croatia. That is a small embassy and provides all the services that are required to meet the needs of the large Croatian community in Australia and also focuses on economic and trade relations with Croatia and with the European Union.

I agree there is a lot of scope to rationalise some of our Australian embassies—for example some in Brussels—because that is the power centre in the European Union. That way we can free up resources and to allocate funding for opening up Australian diplomatic posts in places such as the Ukraine and Macedonia and south-eastern Europe. If we look at the European Union it has economic problems at the moment, but countries like Turkey and Macedonia are growing economically against the trend because they have looked east and are developing economic relations with the Gulf states and other sort of places.

It is not all doom and gloom and we need to think laterally. Australia is a relatively wealthy country and it can afford to invest and should invest in soft power. If we can afford to spend $20 billion-plus every year on defence, or even more, and increase our aid budget to $8 billion in the next three to five years then, surely we should allocate extra funding for our overseas diplomatic network. That can provide us with not just the standard diplomatic activities but also market intelligence, cultural relations and all sorts of opportunities which Australia currently is not using because of the way the whole system, if you like, has been conceptualised, originally without much input from multicultural Australia having their say.

Mr RUDDOCK: I appreciate your comments about rationalisation, but have you thought about priorities if you were ranking them?

Mr Andreevski : If I were ranking, of course, we have to sort of look at Australia's economic priorities.

Mr RUDDOCK: One extra post a year for the next 10 years.

Mr Andreevski : I believe that, if we are talking about south eastern Europe, Australia is very much underrepresented in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. People have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to an Australian consulate or embassy, so it is difficult. Imagine if you were a Macedonian and you had to go to a foreign country like Greece to get an Australian visa. That does not make much sense because it is difficult to get in. If you have to go to another country, such as Indonesia so that we can travel to another country, it becomes difficult.

Mr RUDDOCK: Where do you go now? You go to Belgrade, don't you?

Mr Andreevski : Belgrade. For example, on Monday I put in an application for sponsored visitors from Macedonia through the department of immigration in Sydney where they have a processing centre. It costs them a lot of time and money to go to the embassy and fill in the forms. The forms are just to get their visa for six weeks. It is like buying a house and getting into a mortgage because there is so much paperwork. I understand Australia is trying to restrict migrants who may overstay, but in this particular case we have a situation when the person is an entrepreneur and his wife is an accountant and she works for one of the multinational firms. They are not high risk. They just want to come and visit the family.

Mr RUDDOCK: Somebody just has to say that.

Mr Andreevski : I am here today. That is the situation.

Mr RUDDOCK: And evidence it.

Mr Andreevski : Evidence, of course.

Dr STONE: Online you have mentioned innovation quite often in your report. You referred to it in your remarks. You say to us, 'Look, if we had more innovation in our diplomatic representation, it would overcome some of our shortfalls.' Could that innovation be using more web based information, for example, getting visas and so on? What about more diplomacy via developing so-called e-diplomacy? Are you familiar with how other countries have done it?

Mr Andreevski : Absolutely. I am also familiar with other countries have been doing. For example, in Turkey they are shifting towards e-consular activities to make it easier for the Turkish administration, but also for the Turkish Diaspora to connect and get all the documents and forms. Now they have to wait in line to get a form and submit it and it takes forever. It is expensive and it does not add value to anybody except to the bureaucracy. So we try to reduce waste by taking advantage of all the web technologies that are available and, again, I will go to the Lowy Institute who have done some research into this area that made submissions. I think it is really important also to look at what the United States is doing in the way that they are using, not just social media, but also other sort of technologies to engage with the world and to win the support from the rest of the world, because they need support. Australia needs to have as many friends as possible.

I think, definitely, the technology should be utilised. For example, I had a look at the Australian embassy website, and I have got a lot of respect for the Australian ambassador in Belgrade, Dr Helena Studdert, who this year organised Australia Day in Macedonia, which was fantastic. The problem with the website is that it is very basic and has no imagination. It is not sure whether it is her job to maintain the website, but someone has to do it. I think it should be done in partnership between Canberra and the local missions so that we have got much better impact and better understanding. We need to make it as easy as possible for people who are interested in doing business with Australia to get the relevant information or links. It can be done. It is not easy, but it has not been a propriety. I think that needs to be a big priority for the diplomatic missions. They need their websites to change.

Dr STONE: Following on that innovation theme. Was one of your key innovations the officer overseas representation impact assessment? Have you seen that in action somewhere else or it is something that has come out of your research and own life experience?

Mr Andreevski : The United Macedonian Diaspora made a submission to the inquiry into Australia's overseas aid. There was talk about how we can increase Australia's aid effectiveness. I have looked at various models, for example, that are used in other ministries internationally in how to increase the effectiveness of aid agencies. I think we can develop a similar model to increase the effectiveness of Australia's diplomatic representation, because it is an investment that we are committed to make every year. Let us make the most of our investment, rather than just throw money in the dark and say, 'This is not working,' with no evidence. I think we need to move towards evidence based decision making and also evidence based policy making, because sometimes Politics get in the way of policy making.

Dr STONE: Have you done any scoping work, thinking how big this assessment agency could be, where it would sit and what sort of resources it would have?

Mr Andreevski : In my previous role as the manager of research with the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre—a $56 million cooperative that linked federal government and industry—we looked at various projects that would deliver high impact and transform Australia's manufacturing industry. With these models that we look at there is a lot of research that has been done. We do not have to reinvent the wheel or spend vast amounts of money to come up with an innovation that will improve effectiveness. Also, I have done research as part of my PhD in strategic management, hence the management talk. We need to use the latest evidence research to improve the effectiveness of Australia's overseas representation.

Mr JENKINS: Since Ordan has indicated his background, my question is going to be a bit misdirected. I think you are in a unique position to make some comment about the adjunct we have to permanent missions in that we appointment honorary consuls. In a general statement, if we were innovative about the use of honorary consuls, we can open up other things. Recently, I was in Panama when we appointed an honorary consul. The ambassador has coverage for a number of Central American countries and Mexico. One of the important things was that consular work is a high priority in that region. They had a position that was the regional consular person who not only had coverage of the whole region but, through the use of honorary consuls, had at least places to make contact with, because often honorary consuls are the first point of contact in consular cases. I am not advocating that that is the perfect system but I am interested in any observations you might make about Australia having had an honorary consular presence in Macedonia and Skopia. Can it be used to be a platform for other things or is that seen as just a poor, halfway measure?

Mr Andreevski : I have to be diplomatic in my answer. I have looked at honorary consuls—

Mr JENKINS: That is why I tried to introduce other countries.

Mr Andreevski : Honorary consuls have been used by many countries as a way of reaching out to various societies with minimal investment. That is what it comes down to. It is a nice way of having someone on the ground without having diplomatic representation. There is definitely a role for honorary consuls that can initiate a lot of things depending on whether they have access to resources to run projects. If they have funding for high-impact projects they could do things. Without funding it is just talk and very little action. That is my concern. If we do not have the resources it is hard to deliver outcomes. It is hard to expect of someone who has not the resources to do things such as travel, run campaigns, host functions and organise things. We need to think about what the role of the honorary consuls is in a global sense, how we can utilise this underutilised asset and how we can fund it properly so we can get maximum return on our investment.

Going back to e-diplomacy and e-consular services, that can provide huge savings for Australia. Technology can basically reduce the need to have too many people. A lot of things can be done online these days, and most people prefer to engage online until such time as they get into trouble, then they need someone to help them out.

Mr RUDDOCK: Some people think that putting it online creates more work.

Mr Andreevski : Sometimes it does. I am not saying that it is the perfect solution.

Mr RUDDOCK: I would like to hear you say what we would expect to be able to save in overseas deployments with an effective online e-diplomacy.

Mr Andreevski : For example, visa applications and other things could be done online without having people on the ground. The other alternative is that you could have people on the ground, but local people on the ground.

Mr RUDDOCK: They are done extensively that way now. Sometimes you actually have to see people to know whether they are telling you the truth.

Mr Andreevski : I understand. It is a tricky issue.

Mr RUDDOCK: Sometimes you have to get evidence because people will produce fraudulent documents.

Mr Andreevski : I know, I am very familiar with that. I worked with Victoria University and I travelled throughout the Asia Pacific and met all sorts of people who wanted to be agents or who wanted to come to Australia. They produce all this forged documentation. There has to be scrutiny. We have to be street smart as well; we cannot just say that everything will be online and we accept everything on face value—it does not work that way. Of course, there needs to be an assessable approach.

There is a role for consular staff and diplomatic staff. I am arguing for enhanced funding and an enhanced role rather than shrinking that role, because in the 21st century Australia's place in the world will be enhanced through soft-power engagement and public diplomacy. Australia spends very little in comparison to the United States, Britain and other countries—for example, France and even China—on cultural diplomacy. You are very tight with our dollars, thinking that somehow this money will be wasted. It will not be wasted. We need to use culture, sport and all sorts of smart initiatives to position ourselves as a cultural leader. We have a lot to offer and I do not think that we are exploiting our talent or marketing ourselves properly—definitely not.

Mr JENKINS: The comments being made now suggest to us that it is horses for courses. There will be some countries where their diplomacy is the natural fit; a modern developing economy like Macedonia's is about the use of information technology. It starts to suggest that we can do it in that situation, whereas some of the other asks that we have talked about in, say, the Asian region would be based on a different model. It is interesting because it is about what the best fit is. What has not been mentioned are the expectations of diasporas, and we understand that; that is part of the dilemma about the lack of representation and scope here.

Mr DANBY: Could an office of e-diplomacy be used by diasporas to enhance relationships without necessarily having extra posts and extra consuls? Do you think that that might be a useful role for the office of e-diplomacy if there were one?

Mr Andreevski : We are living in the 21st century, and most of us are going online—it is an information society. Especially young people these days, the first search they do is Google and other forms of research, so yes, definitely. Basically, DFAT needs to take a serious look at how it can reposition its communication and its stakeholder engagement because there is a lot of scope for improvement. It needs to open up its thinking and accept ideas from diasporas and whoever is a friend of Australia who wants to help. I think this inquiry is a fantastic initiative; I think it will make a really positive contribution because there is a need. The status quo is not delivering the outcomes that Australia deserves and we can definitely do a lot better. I think that is an important step in the right direction.

Mr RUDDOCK: I would like you to do some work for the secretariat. You have suggested that we should have an office for overseas representation impact assessment. What criteria would you suggest would be used by such an office for undertaking that assessment?

Mr Andreevski : There are opportunities to evaluate the impact on a number of levels: economic, social, environmental, political and cultural. We can use various metrics, if you like—parameters to assess the effectiveness of our impact. The World Bank has done a lot of work assessing the impact of development assistance. There has also been work assessing the impact of diplomacy. I do not think research has been done in Australia, so I think we should at least provide a few scholarships for students to look at this area, or we should have a research project in hand to look at the literature that is available and to come up with recommendations.

Mr RUDDOCK: You say 'literature'; I say data. What would you measure to have an impact assessment?

Mr Andreevski : We can measure, for example, the effectiveness of a communication strategy by looking at whether it has achieved interest, awareness, desire and action, whether Australia's position on whaling is understood by Japanese society. It can be project based or it can be organisation based. There are various levels of assessment that can be done. There are tools that exist that could be modified to meet Australia's needs for measuring the impact of its overseas representation, whether it is on a strategic level, project level, country level or regional level. There are all sorts of good things that could be done. There is no shortage of researchers that would put their hands up to help out and be engaged.

Mr RUDDOCK: Unfortunately it seems to me you have a lot of excellent suggestions, but they all require a lot more work. I have just pinned down the overseas representation impact assessment. I looked at the recommendations for the diplomatic network and innovation capability stakeholder engagement by commissioning a discussion paper and a research program, holding debates. As I said before, those are the sorts of things that we are supposed to be doing. I looked also for ideas being suggested for us to develop so that we can offer advice to the government on the diplomatic network and mission effectiveness. We then might rank the posts that we have, either for abandoning existing missions or opening new missions, and this must be done on an objective basis. It is easy enough to say, but it is fairly hard to do. I am going to look with interest at the report that you will write on how that might be done.

CHAIR: I think that was more of a comment than a question.

Mr RUDDOCK: No, I really am very focused on it.

Mr Andreevski : What gets measured gets done. For example, DFAT goes down its path of developing a rigorous evidence based impact assessment methodology. If that is clearly understood within its diplomatic network, I think that will help its entire network to improve its performance, because they would have things to focus on.

CHAIR: Do you know of other diplomatic services that have some form of measurement? It is a hard thing to measure.

Mr Andreevski : Every diplomatic service tries to be as effective as possible. The Macedonian ambassadors are reviewed by the ministry every year in terms of their impact.

Mr RUDDOCK: How do they review them?

Mr Andreevski : I have not been involved in the actual reviews, but I know they have annual meetings and they report on progress. I have not seen the proforma, but I can find out.

Mr RUDDOCK: If you can let us have, in confidence even, the review documents, that would be useful.

Mr Andreevski : We can share in a bit of information.

CHAIR: Perhaps that is something you can provide, if that is possible.

Mr RUDDOCK: I do not even mind if it comes off the back of a truck.

Mr Andreevski : No, it is not a problem. I think it is really important to have the methodology framework. It is really important for everyone in the department and other stakeholders to understand where DFAT is heading, why it needs to change, why this is important. That will provide for new ideas and new levels of support—the partnerships—because that is what DFAT needs. It cannot deal with it by itself.

Mr RUDDOCK: We might give a bonus for outstanding performance.

Mr Andreevski : I think definitely incentives always work.

Mr RUDDOCK: It was a novel suggestion, Chair. For you to put in a bipartisan report.

CHAIR: I did read a paper the other day that showed, while bonuses certainly work in a factory environment, they actually are not such a great motivator in other environments. It is actually more to do with quality of work.

Mr RUDDOCK: Maybe if we get better diplomats and pay the bonus.

CHAIR: No, it is actually more about the autonomy.

Mr RUDDOCK: Very pleased to hear that. I think I will put this in the report.

CHAIR: On that note, thank you very much, Mr Andreevski, for your attendance here today. If there are any matters that we need for the additional information, the secretary will write to you and he will also send you a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make any necessary corrections if there are errors. Thank you very much for making your presentation.

Mr Andreevski : I would like to also thank you for giving me this opportunity. It is really fantastic to have your government involved in this discussion. One of the final points I would like to make that is really close to my heart and to the Macedonian community: we are very passionate about developing consular relations between Australia and Macedonia. We try to get to Canberra as often as we can and engage and make submissions. I think it would be fantastic if Australia has a close look at its policy on Macedonia's constitutional name. Australia is one of the very few countries in the developed world that has a really outdated and flawed policy on Macedonia. I have had discussions with various stakeholders. It is an issue which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Mr RUDDOCK: I thought you had been getting movement.

Mr Andreevski : We are trying to effect change. We had some. DFAT, just this month, dropped the 'Slav' prefix, which is fantastic. The next step is to basically drop the 'former Yugoslav' prefix and we are in business.

CHAIR: I am afraid that is a bit outside our remit, but I do thank you. It is on Hansard now.