A proposal for a multi-million dollar diplomatic hub in Qatar has been referred to a full public inquiry which will examine the extravagant spend.
The planned embassy by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which would house just four Australian staff and 11 local workers, would occupy one floor of Doha’s Tornado building at a weekly rental cost of $18,000, News Corp reported.
It was the second time the project, which would cost more than $20 million in total, would be scrutinised, after it was rejected by Parliament’s Public Works Committee.
“The Abbott government viewed there were strong grounds for an Australian Embassy in Doha,” a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told News Corp.
“Two-way trade between Australia and Qatar was worth $1.75 billion in 2014-15, with Australian exports growing by over 20 per cent. Over 80 Australian companies are present in Qatar and the Football World Cup presents a huge opportunity for Australian businesses.”
When it was initially proposed by the then Abbott-led government, the office was expected to cost more than $8.9 million to fit out and $13 million to lease for 10 years – coming in at a total of more than $20 million.
Overseas Property Office executive director Kevin Nixon told a Senate estimates hearing earlier in February the fit-out was revised to about $7 million.
It would equate to about $7861 per square metre for the 895 square metre space.
The project was included in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) $98 million budget.
At the hearing, Labor Senator Alex Gallacher described it as “the most expensive fit-out in the history of the public works committee”.
“It is twice the cost of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in our great city of Sydney,” he said.
“The establishment costs are extraordinary, and the fact that you have to lease almost three times more space than you need is extraordinary.”
They considered factors such as security, fire systems and structural integrity before narrowing it down to the Tornado Tower, The Gate Mall or Burj Qatar.
Tornado Tower was considered the best available option.
“We are dealing with a high-cost environment, so your numbers are going to look larger than in say Phuket where we’re opening an office as well,” Department Secretary Peter Varghese said.
– with ABC