My previous post analysed the Commission of Audit's recommendations on defence, foreign affairs and aid. Below, some of the less prominent recommendations made by the Commission in the realm of international policy, which range from sensible to questionable.
First, the sensible recommendations:
- Withdraw from expos: the Shanghai Expo (see photo) was an expensive exercise, totaling around $90 million over four years. The Commission notes that other countries are reducing their exposure to expos too.
- Make more resource-sharing arrangements with like-minded countries, such as the existing Australia-Canada consular sharing agreement and the mooted Australia-UK-Canada diplomatic sharing.
- Introduce fees for consular services: while the Commission proposes a cost recovery model, the burden on individuals will be high (it cites the UK's hourly fee of £130), while the broader based, small consular levy I proposed last year would be less painful to unsuspecting or ill-prepared individuals but obviously unpalatable to a new government which promised no new taxes.
Other recommendations seem to either tinker at the edges, are unsupported by much evidence or would make nary a dent in the Government's bid for a surplus. Here are some questionable ones:
- The outsourcing of passport production: this is a function which the Commission notes provides $374 million in revenue at the cost of around $223 million. It turns a profit. For consolidated revenue, not DFAT, mind you.
- Apply interest to traveler loans: not a big ticket item, at around $200,000 per year (most of which is recovered). More of an 'entitlement' issue and a bit small-fry.
- Scrap the Australia Network, because it is, so the Commission says, 'an expensive option for meeting diplomatic objectives given its limited outreach to a small audience'. But expensive compared with what? No comparative data from the Commission, no analysis of efficiency. At $23 million per year, reaching 36 million homes and 46 countries, this is one of the few public diplomacy functions DFAT still funds, reaching out to publics in our region to inform them of our nation, values, culture and economy. Historically, international broadcasting is one of the most cost-effective ways of reaching audiences in their millions on a regular basis. With two recent distribution deals announced by ABC International, the recommendation to abandon it after nearly a decade of consistent investment seems premature and short sighted, and not about funding or efficiency. In any event, it is a matter more appropriate for party policy than a Commission of Audit.
- A number of other small-ticket recommendations such as reviewing the criteria for the International Relations Grants Program ($5 million per annum).
- As for the recommendations to halve funding for Tourism Australia, abolish the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, cease funding for Export Market Development Grants and reduce the activities of an (already reduced) Austrade, these would seem to counter the Government's own emphasis on economic diplomacy.
Photo by Flickr user Wojtek Gurak.