In what Foreign Minister Julie Bishop termed ‘the single largest expansion of Australia’s diplomatic network in
forty years’, the 2015–16 Budget announced that Australia would open
five new overseas diplomatic missions, all in the Indo-Pacific.
The Government will provide $98.3 million over four years to
open new diplomatic missions in:
Buka, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Makassar, south Sulawesi, Indonesia
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and
justifies the new posts in the following terms:
New posts in Makassar, Doha and Ulaanbaatar will advance
trade and investment opportunities for Australia. A consulate in Phuket will
help manage Australia’s significant consular load while a new post in Buka will
provide greater focus for Australia’s development assistance to Bougainville.
These are the latest in a series of new diplomatic missions
the Australian Government has opened—after some years of think tank and
parliamentary committee criticism of Australia’s diplomatic network. A 2009 report
from the Lowy Institute for International Policy calculated that Australia had
‘fewer diplomatic missions than all but a few OECD countries’, concluding that Australia’s
network of overseas diplomatic missions was ‘overstretched and hollowed out’.
A follow-up report from 2011 found that Australia had the
smallest overseas network of all G20 nations.
In 2012, the Joint Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs and Trade (JSCFADT) published its report Australia’s
Overseas Representation—Punching below our weight?, which recommended to the
Government that ‘the budget priority for overseas representation should be
significantly raised because of the benefits that accrue from diplomacy’ and
that Australia should establish at least 20 new diplomatic posts ‘to bring it
to a level commensurate with its position within the G20 and OECD’.
Since 2009, Australia has opened a further six
diplomatic missions—Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Lima (Peru), Chennai (India),
Mumbai (India), Chengdu (China) and Kyiv (Ukraine). The former Labor Government
announced in May 2012 that it would open a post in Dakar (Senegal), though the
incoming Coalition Government cancelled this decision in December 2013.
The new diplomatic missions announced in the
2015–16 Budget have a distinctly ‘Indo-Pacific’ focus. In 2012 the Department
of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was asked where it would like to see new
posts opened, should the Department receive extra resources. Then Secretary
Dennis Richardson said at the time that should DFAT receive an extra $100
million over four years, the Department would like to see posts opened in the
following five locations: Astana (Kazakhstan), Ulaanbatar (Mongolia), Dakar
(Senegal), Phuket (Thailand) and Funafuti (Tuvalu).
The $98.3 million allocated in the 2015–16 Budget is a very similar figure, yet
only two of DFAT’s recommended locations made the cut. Considering Foreign
Minister Bishop argues that ‘our foreign policy focus must be on our region—the
Indian Ocean Asia Pacific (Indo-Pacific)’, this is not surprising.
Indeed, not long after winning government the new Foreign Minister stated her
intention to expand Australia’s diplomatic network, while signifying that any
new posts would be located in the Indo-Pacific.
Alex Oliver from the Lowy Institute provides further
possible reasoning for the location of these particular posts:
The mission in Phuket, presumably a
consulate-general, was probably the first priority on anyone's list. Phuket is
Australians' fourth most popular travel destination, and one of the most
demanding places for DFAT to provide consular services, accounting for the largest
number of Australian deaths overseas.
The Makassar post, in eastern Indonesia ... in
order to serve Australia's considerable interests there (although the cuts to
Indonesia aid trim those interests somewhat). Of the others, the post in
Bougainville anticipates the independence referendum sometime in the next five
years, the Ulaanbaatar post was in [then DFAT Secretary Dennis] Richardson's
top five, and the Doha post is more of a surprise—presumably it's to serve
increasing bilateral trade and investment interests.
The announcement that Australia will open a
diplomatic mission in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville has drawn sharp
criticism from the PNG Government. Speaking in Sydney two days after the
Budget’s release, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill stated that ‘we
were shocked to learn from the budget documents that Australia was planning to
establish a diplomatic post in Bougainville ... We have to sanction this. You
can't just go around and open offices at your pleasure’.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, for her part, claimed that Australia had
consulted PNG on the Bougainville post in December 2014, and that Australia's
High Commissioner had formally informed the PNG Government in the lead-up to
Bougainville is a sensitive issue for PNG, where a civil war
in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in 15,000–20,000 deaths. Following a peace
treaty in 1998, Bougainville received autonomy status, with a referendum on
independence to occur prior to 2020. The Australian Government’s announcement that
it would open a post in Buka came while elections were underway in
Bougainville, with the resulting regional government becoming responsible for
negotiating a referendum date with PNG.
J Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), 2015 Foreign Affairs budget, media release, 12 May 2015.
This also includes an undisclosed amount of funding to provide
‘increased resources’ to the Australian consulate in Houston, Texas. The budget
figures have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced:
Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 19: Foreign Affairs and
Trade Portfolio, p. 19.
diplomatic deficit: reinvesting in our instruments of international policy,
Lowy Institute for International Policy, Blue Ribbon Panel report, March 2009,
A Oliver and A Shearer, Diplomatic
disrepair: rebuilding Australia’s international policy infrastructure,
Lowy Institute for International Policy, August 2011, p. viii.
Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Australia’s overseas representation—punching below our weight?, House of Representatives, Canberra, October 2012, p. vii.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Submission
to Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, Inquiry
into Australia’s overseas representation, no date, accessed 14 May
J Bishop (Shadow Foreign Minister), ‘Why
the Coalition is the best choice on foreign, aid and trade policy at this
election’, Lowy Interpreter weblog, 19 August 2013.
AAP, ‘Julie Bishop plans to expand diplomatic footprint abroad’, The Australian, 4 October 2014.
A Oliver, ‘DFAT's
Dickensian budget’, Lowy Interpreter weblog, 13 May 2015, hyperlinks
Bougainville diplomatic mission shocks PNG prime minister’, The Guardian
(online), 14 May 2015.
S Mitchell, ‘Julie
Bishop denies allegations Government failed to consult with PNG over diplomatic
post in Bougainville’, ABC News, 14 May 2015.
L Cochrane, ‘Polls
open in Bougainville as island nation looks towards independence from Papua New
Guinea’, ABC News, 11 May 2015.
All online articles accessed May 2015.
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