Marles declares there will be an Australia Day event in London

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles has declared there will be an Australia Day event in London next month, in effect overruling the high commissioner’s plans to cancel the annual function at Australia House.

This masthead reported on Monday that Australia’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Stephen Smith, had closed the doors of Australia House to organisers of the Australia Day gala dinner, run by the not-for-profit Australia Day Foundation, citing sensitivities around celebrating the national day.

Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles says there will be an Australia Day function at Australia House in London next year.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Speaking from Adelaide on Tuesday, Marles said there would be a function at Australia House in London next month but would not specify if it would be the traditional dinner run by the foundation.

“There will be an Australia Day function in London, at Australia House, on Australia Day next year – no ifs, no buts,” he said.

“What that event is and how it’s managed, it’s obviously a matter for the high commission itself, but there is no doubt that there will be an Australia Day event.”

The Australia Day gala dinner is a black-tie event that has previously attracted some of Australia’s biggest names, including Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Tim Minchin, Delta Goodrem and Tina Arena.

Earlier on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton slammed Smith for cancelling the Australia Day dinner, which the foundation has run for the past two decades.

“The high commissioner in London, if he’s not prepared to celebrate Australia Day, if he’s ashamed of Australia Day, then frankly I think he should be looking for a new job,” he said.

On Monday, Smith told this masthead he was happy to acknowledge the “sensitivities” surrounding the national day, as well as the cost.

“It is well known that Australia Day touches on sensitivities for some Australians,” a spokesman for the commissioner said in a statement.

High commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith on Monday told this masthead he was happy to acknowledge the “sensitivities” surrounding the national day, as well as the cost.Credit: Hollie Adams

“The high commissioner is happy to acknowledge that was part of the decision-making process with respect to the various alternative dates suggested by the foundation.”

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office sent a response attributable to Smith in which the prime minister’s hand-picked envoy said the decision to cancel the event was prompted chiefly by the cost.

“Supporting the gala dinner in the past has cost the Australian high commission. This year the estimate was $55,000,” Smith said in a statement.

“The high commission determined that Australian taxpayers should no longer bear such a cost.”

Organisers said they were mystified by the quote, confirming the cost of hiring Exhibition Hall at Australia House was £6000 ($11,400) a year ago.

Email correspondence sent by the high commission and seen by this masthead detailed the cost of hiring the hall.

“We have set out below a total cost estimate of approximately £29,000 ($55,333) for the event, covering room hire and on-costs (security, portering and cleaning),” according to the email dated November 24.

“Please note this is an estimate of costs only and the total cost of the event will depend on actual costs incurred.”

Smith, who served in the foreign affairs, trade and defence portfolios during the Rudd-Gillard years, took up the London posting on Australia Day this year after completing a major strategic review of the nation’s defence forces for the government.

The high commissioner role had been vacant since April 2022, when former Liberal cabinet member George Brandis’ term expired.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article