The Coalition has decided to reverse a Labor decision to appoint Steve Bracks as Consul-General to New York. This is entirely appropriate – not only should the new Government enjoy the right to make its own appointments, but it might wish to consider whether the position should even exist. In addition, Bracks was about to start the posting at the same time as the new Government, it is not like he is being withdrawn from a posting. Does anyone really think that Steve Bracks is the best person to prosecute a Coalition Government’s position in New York?
While Australia needs to have consulates in the United States, it is unclear that there needs to be a very senior Consul-General living in a $25 million apartment in New York.
Consuls and Consul-Generals perform a variety of traditional consular tasks (eg helping Australian citizens in trouble overseas) and trade commissioner roles (promoting Australian business interests). Catallaxy readers will traditionally be skeptical of the need for the latter and the extent of the former.
In the United States, Australia has representations at the Embassy in Washington and New York (United Nations), consul-generals in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Honolulu, and Australian Trade Commission offices in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington. Additionally there are various State representatives (Agents-General) such as Victoria’s in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington.
In this day and age do we really need so many representative agencies from Australia in the United States (let alone in other countries)? Surely communications have advanced to the point where significant savings could be achieved by closing down some of these offices.
The United Kingdom is in the process of closing its passport offices throughout the world – these will now be provided electronically as its existing visa service (its consulates will now only issue temporary emergency travel documents). This is just one example where technology and communications can achieve productivity improvements and reduce the cost of the Government’s overseas services.
Did you notice reports that Tanya Plibersek is acting foreign minister until the new Government is sworn in? Does this mean that Bob Carr is taking a holiday at taxpayers’ expense following the St Petersburg G-20 meeting?
Carr says that he will serve full-term. I’m not sure whether he means to the end of his present term (ie: 30 June 2014) or to the end of the term to which he has just been elected (ie: 30 June 2020 – assuming no double dissolutions in the meantime). Paul Howes is said to be sniffing around for a Senate appointment. If that came to pass, it would show Labor has not learned the lessons of its defeat.