Barilaro-State government overseas offices are waste of money

Aug 15, 2022
The eyes of AB 'Banjo' Paterson on the 10 Dollar Australia banknote.
Image: iStock

The States should stick to their knitting and stop deluding themselves about their overseas role.

In response to the Barilaro farce in NSW the Leader of the Opposition has promised to ‘abolish’ the controversial NSW Trade postings if he wins government at the next election. Other state governments should do the same as quickly. as possible.

These state offices are a waste of money and not just in New York. We have now learned that the NSW Agent General in London earns $600,000 per annum. Then add on top of that even more costs for accomodation and other support services.

When I was Ambassador in Japan I observed how little useful work state government agents did. In my autobiography in 1999, ‘Things you learn along the way’ I commented

“New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia had offices in Tokyo. At the Embassy we held monthly discussions with their commissioners to share information and to try to promote the national interest. I told them what I was doing, the issues that were before us and who was likely to visit. I would then invite them to report what they were doing. After the first two meetings it was very clear I wasn’t getting anything from them. My initial reaction was to feel that they were holding out, playing the political game that I had seen so much of in Canberra. But I came to the view that they were not doing anything significant. They had little to share or report except the their golf handicaps.

The Secretary of one State Premier’s Department told me that most of the reports he received from their Commissioner in Tokyo were extracts from the Japan Times; not occasional extracts but long articles to which he attached his name. The Treasury official at the Embassy prepared a monthly report on the Japanese economy which I gave to the state commissioners. That report was invariably floated down to Australia as a report, with suitable topping and tailing, from the state offices.

The states were an awful waste of money and confusing to the Japanese, but they were something I had to learn to live with. 

It is not surprising that New Zealand, with no states and with only one Tourist Commission, has a much clearer focus and identity in Japan than Australia.” 

The States are better than the Commonwealth in such matters as health and education. They should stick to their knitting and stop deluding themselves about their overseas role. Their trade interests would be much better served and much cheaper by attaching a state representative to the Australian Trade Commissioner Service in overseas countries.

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