‘For a Few Dollars More’: DFAT identifies priority posts

A recent submission by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to a Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s overseas representation identifies its priorities for new posts should the Government provide additional funding.

These priorities were identified in response to a Question on Notice from Mr Michael Danby MP, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and an ex-officio member of the Foreign Affairs sub-committee undertaking the inquiry. Under the three funding options put by Mr Danby, DFAT nominated the following priorities for new posts:

  • ‘Low option’ ($25 million a year added to the DFAT budget): Astana (Kazakhstan), Ulaanbatar (Mongolia), Dakar (Senegal), Phuket (Thailand) and Funafuti (Tuvalu).
  • ‘Medium option’ ($50 million a year added to the DFAT budget): all the above plus Algiers (Algeria), Luanda (Angola), Chongqing (China), Bogota (Colombia), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
  • ‘High option’ ($75 million a year added to the DFAT budget): all the above plus Rabat (Morocco), Oslo (Norway), and Bern (Switzerland).

No justification for these priorities or their ranking is provided in the submission.

DFAT’s submission also identifies the specific number of new staff positions at existing posts that could be funded under each option, focusing on G-20 and consular posts as priorities.

Provision for the new embassy in Dakar was announced in the 2012­­­­­­–13 Budget, in addition to a new consulate-general in Chengdu, western China, previously announced in March 2012. $52.6 million over five years has been allocated to establish these two new posts and strengthen existing missions.

The Government also announced in the Budget that it will provide $95.7 million over two years to DFAT to sustain diplomatic and civilian aspects of Australia's whole-of-government engagement in Afghanistan. A further $72.2 million will be invested over two years to continue civilian security arrangements for the Baghdad Embassy.

Commentary in the wake of the 2012–13 Budget notes that DFAT seems to be enjoying a modest funding turn-around. What this commentary also points out, however, is that funding decisions over the last two and a half decades have resulted in a one third reduction in the size of Australia’s overseas presence. A 2011 report prepared by the Lowy Institute compared the number of Australia’s diplomatic missions with that of its peers and found that Australia ranks 25th out of 34 OECD members, behind countries including the Czech Republic and Belgium.

DFAT are obviously keen to show the Government that they have a clear plan for using a few dollars more should its budget fortunes continue to improve.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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