Perth’s mining boom destroying diplomacy
A peculiar diplomatic exodus is taking place away from Australia’s economic heartland.
Over the past year more than half-a-dozen Consulates based in Perth have either completely shut-shop or withdrawn key representative postings.
What is Western Australian doing wrong? Foreign governments should be scrambling to court the state that is essentially driving the nation’s economic development.
Admittedly, folks from the Wild West are a bit rough around the edges (uncut diamonds I like to think).
The first thing one notices about Perth upon stepping off an international flight, is that the money created by the mining boom has unleashed a cringe-worthy bout of boganism upon us sandgroppers. HSVs and beer guts dominate the suburban landscape.
But is it really that bad, that the Governments of Britain, France, India, Thailand, Ecuador, Mauritius, Mauritania and Nepal would all think it unliveable?
Perhaps it’s not us.
Perhaps what we are seeing are the knock-on effects from post-GFC belt-tightening. This at least explains the case of the Brits, who are about to stand-down their only full-time representative in WA. It will be the first time since 1829 that Western Australia does not have an official representative of the British Government within its jurisdiction.
My guess is that, as the new coalition government embarks on a savage round of budget cuts back in the mother country, their foreign service is being forced to shrink its overseas presence, even though international affairs was supposed to be spared from the worst of the spending cuts. Whatever the reason is, Britain’s full-time posting in WA is obviously seen as ‘non-essential’.
But then how could India possibly say that its Honorary Consul in the West is ‘non-essential’? There are many thousands of Indian students studying in WA at any one time, and the state’s permanent Indian-born population is now over 15,000.
While NSW and Victoria each have half-a-dozen full-time career diplomats posted from India, recently retired Indian Honorary Consul, Ms Sushma Paul, was the only official representative for India on this side of the continent. Is this a case of post-Commonwealth Games ‘belt-tightening’?
Or could it be that, rather than downgrading its presence, the Indian government is actually positioning itself to establish a larger full-time consulate in Perth sometime in the near future? WA Premier Colin Barnett will surely be hoping it’s the latter, considering the importance of India to Australia’s economic future.
France is another story all together. Quite frankly nobody knows what the French are doing, including the retiring French Honorary Consul Michael Wood, who after loyally representing the French government in WA for 12 years was given rather short notice that his services would no longer be required. Attempts to clarify the intentions of our friendly French guests have fallen upon deaf ears.
The Nepalese, Mauritian and Mauritanian governments have not seen good reason to appoint replacement consuls in Perth, after their (generally aging) representatives all bowed out of public life last year.
Meanwhile the Ecuadorian Honorary Consul in Perth went missing-in-action for a few months at the beginning of this year, before word came in from Canberra that the Ambassador from Ecuador would not be replacing her.
And then there’s Thailand. After an extraordinary 32 years of service to the Consular Corps of Western Australia, the Honorary Consul-General for Thailand, Brigadier Bill Jamieson received word recently that the Thai Embassy in Canberra was decommissioning its two its representative posts in Perth.
Why? I do not know. But with the state of Thai politics at the moment I imagine the Brigadier’s sadness at vacating the post was tempered by a quiet sense of relief.
The answer to the question of ‘why’ might be a lot simpler than global economics. It could just be that the world’s most isolated capital city is just too far away for foreign Ambassadors to care about. Out of sight, out of mind. If that is the case, I suggest the WA Premier gets on the phone to the Embassies in Canberra and reminds them who’s really running this show.
But it’s not all bad news. Estonia, Peru and Brazil have seen the light, and have recently established new diplomatic links in Perth (let’s hope they stay).
Another notable exception to this general trend of stealth exodus is the United States. We can’t seem to get rid of the yanks. The last two Consuls-General from the US posted to Perth, Ms Robin McClelland and Dr Ken Chern, have both so enjoyed the experience that they have made new lives here.
Dr Chern has recently taken up a professorial position at Murdoch University.
In fact, the Chern family did go back to Washington for a couple of weeks after their posting ended, but decided they missed Perth so much that they booked the next flight back.
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