Budget cuts at home have spurred a realignment of Australia‘s diplomatic offices around the world, soon forcing the country to shutter its Atlanta consulate and trade commission.
The Buckhead office will close Aug. 31, going the way of similar outposts in Los Angeles and New Orleans, leaving four consulates and trade offices around the U.S.
“Every government department is being told to save some money and help Australia get back into surplus as quickly as possible,” Consul General Duncan Cole told GlobalAtlanta.
It’s not that the Australian economy has faltered, said Mr. Cole, who is also commissioner of the Austrade office in Atlanta.
The nation of 22 million people has seen 21 straight years of growth, including 2.3 percent expansion in 2011, but the government has had to play a more hands-on role during the recent lean years.
“We pulled the correct economic levers to make sure certain areas of the economy that might’ve suffered from the international scenario were protected,” he said.
That included changing regulations to allow onshore oil and gas exploration, which fueled increased investment from energy giants in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Australia relies heavily on foreign investment and trade, but it also has a diversified economy, contrary to the perception that it depends disproportionately on mining and natural resources, Mr. Cole said.
Until the new gas regulations took hold, financial services made up the largest share of the country’s economy. Despite its small population, Australia is No. 4 in the world in funds under management, he said.
Over the past few years, Australian companies have begun to set up North American headquarters in Atlanta, including water valve system manufacturer Reliance Worldwide and AlgaeTec, a company seeking to commercial biofuels made from algae.
Mr. Cole will return to Canberra for a time before receiving a new diplomatic assignment or branching out into the private sector.
“I’m not counting anything out,” he said.
Wherever he goes, Mr. Cole should be able to indulge his love of sports and the outdoors.
He and his wife join a co-ed group to play touch rugby on Wednesdays and Sundays in Piedmont Park, eliciting curious glances from passersby who sometimes try their hand at the unfamiliar game.
Also, since it’s the “closest thing you can find to cricket” here in the States, Mr. Cole has taken to baseball, becoming a frequent spectator at Atlanta Braves games.
But he probably won’t find a better place to study the American Civil War, which has held his interest since he spent three high-school years in Virginia.
He often visits Stone Mountain and has made efforts to get off the interstates and into the less-traveled parts of his territory, which spans the Southeast and into Florida and Texas.
“There’s so many roads in Georgia you find interesting and you don’t expect things to be there, and it’s fantastic,” he said, high praise from a diplomat whose previous postings include Libya, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China.
Australia’s Atlanta consulate opened in 1994 to serve the interests of citizens coming for the 1996 Olympic Games. Mr. Cole estimates the Australian community in the Southeast at about 20,000 people, some 1,500 in Atlanta.
He said his government is constantly evaluating its overseas footprint and could eventually reopen the consulate when the time is right.
“I would not count anything out on that side either,” he said.
For more information or to contact the consulate, here.