McCully wants cuts to MFAT consulting costs
BUSINESSDESK: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says he is looking for cuts in the $2.8 million budgeted for consultants to complete his ministry's controversial restructuring.
In a select committee hearing at Parliament today, Mr McCully said senior leadership appointments were imminent in the next few weeks.
Once those were announced "I will discuss the issue of the level of spending on consultants for this programme" with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief executive John Allen.
Mr McCully fended off aggressive questioning by Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff on why he was the only minister to stop the Treasury from posting Cabinet papers relating to Budget decisions on its website.
A mass publication of papers showing the decision-making and advice for every other department was posted to the Treasury website at the end of June, but the minister said it was his practice only to release those papers on request.
"You were too lazy, Mr Goff, to ask for it," he said, amid claims from Mr Goff that Mr McCully ran a "cult of secrecy" around his department, as also shown by the deletion of more than half the pages of MFAT's briefing to incoming ministers.
However, Mr McCully said that hadn't been his decision and that he had reversed some of the cuts he had accepted on officials' recommendation when complaints were lodged with the Ombudsman.
He defended his "right to release it [Budget papers] in the way we want to release it".
"Sometimes the New Zealand Treasury doesn't always make its decisions in the best interests of ministers," Mr McCully said. He preferred to "manage the flow of information in the best interests of my ministry".
He professed no knowledge of Mr Goff's claim that around half the Official Information Act requests received by MFAT were not answered within the required statutory timeframe.
Mr Goff also pressed Mr McCully on morale at MFAT, which earlier this year saw 49 ambassadors and heads of foreign missions co-sign a letter deeply critical of Mr Allen's restructuring programme.
Mr McCully said the change team at the ministry had developed the proposals and he had wound some of them back once he became aware of them and the furore they created.
Mr Allen told the select committee morale at MFAT was "ticking up" as new middle management and senior appointments were confirmed.