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Monday, June 21, 2021

Report: More questions arise over cost of Australian embassy in Doha

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Tornado Tower
Tornado Tower

Plans for an Australian Embassy in Doha will reportedly face additional political scrutiny following complaints over its projected A$20 million (more than QR52 million) price tag.

The public inquiry will examine the costs associated with the mission, which is set to be housed on a floor of Tornado Tower in West Bay/Dafna’s business district.

The 895 sq m office will be used by four diplomatic officials and 11 locally-employed staff, the Australian Daily Telegraph reported.

The initial fit-out plans were estimated to cost A$8.91 million (QR23 million), with a 10-year lease on the landmark tower earmarked at A$13 million (QR34 million).

This would equate to a weekly rent of A$18,000 (QR47,000), which is twice as expensive as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney, the newspaper added.

The budget was already rejected once by a public works’ committee.

At a Senate estimates meeting last month, the fit-out costs were revised to come in around A$7 million, The New Daily reported Kevin Nixon, executive director of the country’s Overseas Property Office, as saying.

At the hearing, Senator Alex Gallacher described it as “the most expensive fit-out in the history of the public works committee,” the paper added.

Security

The choice of Tornado Tower as a location for the embassy was driven by security arrangements, as well as what was seen to be prohibitive costs in constructing a new building.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A spokesman for foreign minister Julie Bishop said the decision had been made when Tony Abbott was prime minister.

“The Abbott government viewed there were strong grounds for an Australian Embassy in Doha,’’ the spokeswoman added.

The Australian government announced in May last year that it would open its first diplomatic office in Qatar.

The proposed Qatar office comes out of a QR285.44 million (A$98.3 million) federal budget dedicated to open new overseas missions in Qatar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand.

There are approximately 5,000 Australia nationals living in Qatar who currently receive consular service from the Australian embassy in Abu Dhabi, where ambassador Arthur Spyrou also represents his country in Qatar.

Spyrou declined to comment to Doha News on the public inquiry.

Boosting trade

The presence of an embassy often reflects two states’ trade relations, as can be viewed as a way to further improve ties.

“Two-way trade between Australia and Qatar was worth $1.75 billion in 2014-15, with Australian exports growing by over 20 percent. Over 80 Australian companies are present in Qatar and the football world cup presents a huge opportunity for Australian businesses,” Bishop’s spokesman added in a statement, The Daily Telegraph said.

The country’s keenness to boost ties with the region was on display last year when Andrew Robb, Australia’s trade and investment minister, visited Qatar and several other Gulf states.

“This will be my third visit to the Gulf in 12 months, which indicates the priority Australia places on further deepening trade and investment links with this dynamic region,” Robb stated at the time.

Meanwhile, the first Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney will take off tonight, marking the third Australian destination for the local carrier.

The Boeing 777-300 will leave Doha at 8:10pm Qatar time and arrive in Sydney after a nearly 15-hour flight at 6:05pm local time the following day. The return trip leaves Australia at 10:20pm and lands in Qatar at 5:05am the next day, the airline said last September when it announced the new route.

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