Mccully’s mixed mes­sages

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

On its web­site, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade de­scribes its role as be­ing ‘‘ to make New Zealand’s voice heard over­seas, and con­trib­ute di­rectly to the se­cu­rity and well­be­ing of all New Zealan­ders’’.

Yet if For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Mur­ray Mccully has his way, that voice will be heard less loudly in Euro­pean cap­i­tals, and our diplo­mats will have fewer re­sources to as­sist the ‘‘se­cu­rity and well­be­ing’’ of Kiwi trav­ellers in Europe and the Mid­dle East.

Cur­rently, Mccully’s pro­gramme is in deep trou­ble. Only a month ago, Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade chief ex­ec­u­tive John Allen un­veiled a re­struc­tur­ing plan to save $25 mil­lion by slash­ing 169 jobs at home, and 136 lo­cally-hired staff in our diplo­matic posts abroad.

Be­hind the niceties of con­sul­tancy-speak, the staff who lead our trade and diplo­matic ef­forts aboard were es­sen­tially be­ing told their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence were dis­pos­able and that they’d been over­paid and ex­pen­sively cos­seted for years.

Amid the sub­se­quent up­roar, the change man­agers steer­ing the process re­port­edly told stressed­out staff to ‘‘take a hot bath, pray, do yoga or get a pet – be­cause ‘ a pet’s love is un­con­di­tional’ ’’.

Last week Mccully made a sud­den U- turn and launched an ex­tra­or­di­nary public at­tack on the of­fi­cials ex­e­cut­ing the plan he had ini­ti­ated, de­spite the fact that Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade bosses had been ‘‘in dis­cus­sion with Gov­ern­ment through­out the process’’, ac­cord­ing to a min­istry spokesper­son.

The gist of Mccully’s crit­i­cism was that the re­forms had turned into a cost-cut­ting ex­er­cise across the board, whereas, Mccully claimed, he’d al­ways wanted the min­istry to be switch­ing its re­sources from Europe to Asia.

Only about 150 jobs now seem likely to be scrapped, mainly within New Zealand.

How­ever, more diplo­matic posts in Europe – in­clud­ing Rome, Madrid, The Hague and Paris – could still be closed or scaled back to shift re­sources to In­dia, China and other Asean ( South- East Asian) coun­tries.

To many ob­servers, it still ap­peared highly short­sighted to send such a clear sig­nal to Europe that our trade and di­plo­macy links with the re­gion no longer mat­ter much to us.

Other as­pects of the Allen/ Mccully plan will, ap­par­ently, pro­ceed. The cur­rent sys­tem of ro­ta­tion be­tween diplo­matic posts (which is meant to cre­ate a sta­ble ca­reer path for diplo­mats and re­tain their ex­pe­ri­ence) would be scrapped, al­legedly to open up ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for younger blood. This pol­icy, too, ap­pears short-sighted.

It may save money to turn di­plo­macy into a fixed-term con­tract job, and younger diplo­mats will cer­tainly be cheaper. Di­plo­macy, how­ever, is a club where ex­peri- ence counts and where the con­tacts earned through that ex­pe­ri­ence are all-im­por­tant.

Will our young bright fel­lows fresh from univer­sity be able to func­tion ef­fec­tively in a con­text where other coun­tries still value se­nior­ity? Prob­a­bly not.

More­over, once the new blood re­alises they’re likely to be thrown to the wolves once their over­seas post­ing ends, our best and bright­est grad­u­ates will prob­a­bly think twice about a Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade ca­reer.

Rather than pur­su­ing the con­tacts and ini­tia­tives likely to fur­ther New Zealand’s in­ter­ests abroad, our new breed of diplo­mats could well de­cide to fo­cus on cur­ry­ing favour with the peo­ple back home likely to de­ter­mine their job prospects. All the up­heaval may re­sult in merely a dif­fer­ent kind of old boys’ club.

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