The budget of DFAT has been slashed, according to this Australian report I found when catching up on some blog reading today. As Roggeveen in the Lowy Interpreter notes – cuts to overseas posts will hurt Australian interests. It seems strange to see this from a PM who is a former diplomat himself.

Why am I commenting on this? Not really legal, I know. But I was strongly reminded, by this story, of an email I got from an old friend of mine a while back. She’s a professional who moved overseas. Energetic. Interesting. Intelligent. With her permission, I reproduce the email (with country names blanked to protect the innocent!) over the fold. No assertions by me, or Roggeveen, can quite capture what these kinds of cuts mean like her story of trying to get more involved with the Australian embassy in another country.

at the embassy
The British Embassy in XX holds a Christmas party and regular dinners.
The Taiwan Representative in XX holds a national day celebration and regular lunches.
And the Australians?
Well there is no embassy.
Its in YYY .
We contacted them once and said we would like to know when there are activities in XX.
They said that they would notify us if there were any terrorist attacks.

But now we have moved to Civilisation (aka YYY )
And lo, we were invited to a reception at the YYY embassy ,
(well, actually Sydney University Alumni invited us to a reception at the YYY embassy)

It was actually an Australian universities alumni reception.
The target audience was not actually Australians.
It was students from YYY .

There were representatives there from all sorts of Australian universities.
My partner chatted to them about University of ZZZZ .
He chatted to them about international collaboration, how ZZZZ was co-operating with MIT and Berkeley.
He chatted to them about the EU budgets for these projects, and how it would be really great if Australian universities could get involved in these international projects.
They listened politely, then said that they were not really here to discuss international collaboration and there was no technical representatives from the universities.
They were only interested in getting students to study in Australia.

We spoke to the ambassador.
We said we were really keen to get involved, to meet people, to network, to help Australians get on their feet in YYY,
We said that the British Embassy in YYY is very active in connecting people and creating business networks to help Australian business.
He said he is very busy and out most days of the week.
He said they have a staff of four and five countries to look after.
This is not the British embassy – they don’t really do that kind of thing.

We spoke to one of the embassy staff (and one of the ex-staff)
They said that around 1996 the policy changed
(hmmm, what else happened in Australia in 1996)
They used to have a reading room, and a bar, and Australians would come to the embassy and hang out.
But then they stripped back the resources (said the embassy staff)
And then they realised there was no votes in Australians coming to the embassy and hanging out (said the ex-staff)
There are more votes in spending money in Western Sydney than spending it on 5 Australians hanging out at the embassy
And so, their focus now is on issuing passports and helping Australians who get arrested.

And building ties
Building ties?
Business ties?
Well, no.
Building ties with countries that have large Australian immigrant populations who put pressure on the government for the embassy to do something.
There is a large AAAAA community in Australia, and a significant BBBBB community in Australia, and so …
They don’t want to waste money or time on a handful of Australians in YYY (who probably don’t even vote), when they can go and visit AAAAA , do something nice, and get the votes of whole communities of Australians in Australia
(see above, there is more votes in Western Sydney than in …)

So our ambassador spends his time delivering Wollemi Pine to botanical gardens in the AAAAA and building ties with BBBBB.

couldn’t have expressed it anywhere near as well myself. Apparently they’re holding an “Australia week” in Los Angeles. How much business is there in Los Angeles? Is Los Angeles an emerging economy…?

Sigh. Australia. Still not getting it.