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Right-sizing just first step for Mfat

Murray McCully may be positioning himself as a fiscal enforcer but he’s really a bit of a wuss.

Proposed $25 million cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade ( Mfat), making 305 mostly Wellington-based bureaucrats redundant, simply bring it back to where it was in 2007/8 before Winston Peters announced his massive $600-million five-year spend-up.

Even at the time, Treasury and the State Services Commission opposed Mr Peters’ profligacy.

After all, Mfat, under its existing budgets, had successfully negotiated CER, the Uruguay Round agreement, the free-trade agreement with China and phase one of the Trans Pacific Partnership. It had won election to the UN Security Council, hosted Apec and CHOGM, installed Mike Moore and Don McKinnon to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Commonwealth, and broadly restored relations with the US.

It wasn’t obvious it needed vastly more money than previous foreign minister Phil Goff had provided for six years.

The main change will be that offshore diplomats will be less bothered by pointless administrative cables from Wellington bureaucrats trying to justify their existence. It’s a mere right-sizing.

(The exception is the madcap idea of cutting diplomats’ pay and making them re-apply for their jobs on return to New Zealand, which is certain to be dropped. Their pay should be increased in exchange for slashing perks and rorts, especially for accommodation.)

Gen X takeover
Mr McCully’s more important changes involve not the number of personnel but their deployment.

Mfat has long been the most conservative of departments.

The only way in was its graduate programme. Time served drove promotion. No one was ever fired. Its employment agreements insist that older people have first entitlement to new positions over younger staff. Consequently, it struggles to retain talented 30-somethings.

To the fury of ageing baby boomers, Mr McCully has aggressively promoted top Gen X talent.

Vangelis Vitalis, 43, has been appointed ambassador to the EU and Nato; Taha Macpherson, 40, to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority; Reuben Levermore, 36, to the Philippines; and Justin Fepuleai, 38, to Afghanistan. Ben King, 39, is John Key’s new chief foreign policy advisor in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

While a late baby boomer, Patrick Rata has been appointed ambassador to South Korea after Mr McCully discovered him in a back-office role having committed the ultimate Mfat sin – taking a couple of years off mid-career, to be Mr Moore’s right-hand man at the World Trade Organisation.

Surprisingly, given Mr McCully’s ultra-partisan reputation, there has been no hint of political favouritism.

As a student leader, Mr Vitalis led protests against the National government in the early 1990s. Mr Macpherson spent three years as Mr Goff’s top aide. Mr King worked for trade minister Lockwood Smith, whom Mr McCully has fought in bitter intra-party warfare, and Mr Rata for Mr Moore. Dr Fepuleai’s PhD is in political science, surely something deserving Mr McCully’s scorn. Arguably only Mr Levermore fits the McCully stereotype, having played professional rugby in France.

With these and future appointments, Mr McCully has decided that talented Gen Xers shouldn’t have to wait until their late 40s or early 50s to reach the top tier. Nor should older talent be punished for working temporarily outside Mfat’s hallowed halls.

Global redeployment
Mr McCully’s next move should be a global review of how Mfat resources are deployed.

As Bill English points out, only 20% of New Zealand’s exports now go to Europe and the US combined. The other 80% go to faster-growing economies in Asia and Australia.

The investment, education, migration and political patterns are broadly similar – but it is not how Mfat deploys its resources.

As many as 166 kiwi diplomats are still stationed in the UK, continental Europe and the US, even excluding the delegations to the UN, WTO and Russia.

In comparison, just 23 diplomats are stationed in Australia, 41 in India and 44 in mainland China.

Mfat still has 11 diplomatic posts in Europe (excluding Geneva and Russia) but just two in Australia, two in China and one in India.

There is a full-scale embassy in Stockholm, which Helen Clark opened in 2008 and Mr McCully plans to close, and in Vienna, despite New Zealand’s exports to Sweden being just $72 million in 2010/11 and to Austria just $18 million.

In contrast, New Zealand has no presence in Chongqing, with its 30 million people and surging economy, nor is New Zealand represented in India’s boomtown of Bangalore.

Mr McCully is on the right track but he still has a long way to go to build a foreign service that properly reflects New Zealand’s place in the 21st century.

More by Matthew Hooton

Comments and questions

"Global redeployment"? NO
Global DEployment is needed!
McCully need only observe how well NZ is exporting to countries with the least Mfat interference/cost!

Anyone wondering why all the "talented GenX-ers" McCully is promoting are men? Since 2009 48 Heads of Mission/Ambassadors have been appointed. Only 9 of these were women. Where are all our talented female diplomats languishing?

NZ exporting well to countries with the "least MFAT interference"?? Hilarious, Mr Morrison, and profoundly ignorant. It's only with constant effort from MFAT and MAF that our major primary product exporters are able to get anything into the largest ASEAN markets, especially Indonesia. Ask Fonterra and it'll tell you what value it gets from MFAT.

I'd rather see the numbers of our slothful MPs drastically culled, than seeing our staffers at Mfat trimmed.

SO Mfat is subsidising corporates who can't export their wares on merit? Name them!!
You have named Fonterra, but everybody knows that is a Government created monopoly and you're saying it needs Mfat to succeed?? Get a real job.

Mr Morrison. I think you might find that a lot of our Asian country diplomatic counterparts would prefer to work with men. Yes we have women diplomats and very talented they are, but in Asia, most doors are only opened to men. Our trading partners have a long way to go before women are accepted as equals.
Fonterra may be large by NZ standards, but in Asia they are puny & they still have to ask permission, or get a diplomat to open the door for them.


Have you ever actually been out of New Zealand ?

In my experience, in China at least, there are a great number of women in important decision making roles and who are involved in trade negotiations.

Scribe - have you ever worked in Asia? I have, for years. Just as likely to be dealing with a woman as a man (depending on country of course), so you are talking rubbish rubbish rubbish. Just by the by... judging by the stats on head of mission appointments, looks like certain parts of our govt would prefer to be working with men as well...

John, I'm sorry but both your comments show how little you know. Fonterra gains the most from MFAT's services because it is NZ's largest exporter. What MFAT does is sort it all out when foreign governments, who typically aren't huge fans of the agriculture trade that keeps NZ alive (and able to pay for e.g. the mental healthcare that you'd do well to seek), change the rules. This isn't a subsidy, and if you had the faintest idea of what you were talking about, you'd know that.

The truth is that 1) government has a far larger role in the economies of all our major developing country trading partners, meaning that Embassies need to be sitting side by side with NZ business when doing deals, and 2) in my experience NZ business is very weak at reading international politics. As Holly says, business needs a strong MFAT with good contacts. Whether Matthew Hooton understands it or not, these cuts - and more importantly the shift away from a career foreign service - are going to negatively affect kiwi business down the line, absolutely guaranteed.

By the way it's disingenuous to say that staffing levels are going back to 2007 days Matthew. Overall, yes, but what that doesn't say is that MFAT will lose policy and frontline admin staff, and retain so-called HR and organisational

...continued from above

organisational "strategists" who wouldn't know what foreign affairs and trade was if it slapped them in the face.

Adding to this comment (not same Anon), it is completely dishonest to say that the proposed cuts take MFAT back to 2007 staffing. This ignores the fact that in 2007 the New Zealand aid programme was managed by NZ Aid - a separate organisation then, and which has since been reabsorbed into MFAT. Taking this staffing into account, MFAT will be a good couple of hundred staff down on 2007.

Adding to this comment (not same Anon), it is completely dishonest to say that the proposed cuts take MFAT back to 2007 staffing. This ignores the fact that in 2007 the New Zealand aid programme was managed by NZ Aid - a separate organisation then, and which has since been reabsorbed into MFAT. Taking this staffing into account, MFAT will be a good couple of hundred staff down on 2007.

How about cutting out the private sector consultants and private sector 'contractocracy'?

How about spending OUR public monies on SOCIAL welfare - not CORPORATE welfare?

Penny Bright
'Anti-corruption campaigner'

Pretty superficial analysis and your numbers don't seem correct.
Hadn't realised that Gen X only had males - perhaps you should look a bit deeper into the gender element here. Are there really no talented female Gen Xers at MFAT, despite improvements in recruitment statistics during the 90s?

Anonymous is right - there's your story, Mr Hooten - the astounding trend away from appointing female heads of mission. Only 6 out of 50-odd NZ ambassadors, by my count, are women. Yet in my experience of MFAT, there are plenty of Gen-X women ready to step up, every bit as talented and worthy as the men you listed above and with the exception of the delightful Mr King, possibly even more hard-working. So what's going on? And who's driving it?

Is Murray McCully have a mid-life crisis then, except in his attitude to women?

Mr Hooten, so your idea of progress is the promotion by Mr McCully of Mr Rata, Mr Levermore, Mr Macpherson, Mr Vitalis, Mr Fepuleai and Mr King? There's not an ovary between you. New Zealand is a State Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. You might want to read up on Article 2 (d) and (e):

Article 2
States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:


(d) To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

(e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

I've come across a few of those Mr's you mentioned going out on post recently, they are just boys... a bit like the young lads sent to war who are barely out of school. It's a bit scarey to consider really and I'm sure in 5 years time will be considered an experiment that failed and MFAT will be back to sending skilled male and female head of missions out. No, I'm not an MFAT policy officer, I'm a specilist there.

Can't somebody sue MFAT for discrimination against women? And saying that only male diplomats can open Asian government doors is an absolute hogwash, especially in countries like India.

Agree, but bad example - the HC in India is a woman. India is not an 'asian' country in any cultural sense either and nz would do well to treat as such.

My point exactly. Even if India may not be an "asian" country in the cultural sense, it is in Asia and in countries like India, the gender of the diplomat does not make a difference, it is his or her sensitivities to cultural and official nuances that matter. If diplomacy were not a "real" profession that required special training, no country in the world would maintain a diplomatic service. Having seen the difference in the way a businessman deals with people and how good diplomat does the same, it will be interesting to see the result of "corporatising" MFAT when governments in individual countries still have a very big role to play in the trade of agricultural products, the mainstay of NZ exports.

I agree. Superficial and innaccurate 'analysis' that only serves to shill the nats party line.

To John Singapore: like Jenny Shipley at China Construction Bank? Now there's a problem that just won't go away! And a good example of why women are no better than men.

I say cut it in half again. Judging from comments here this "Department" is about maintenance of sinecure employment and nothing about helping NZ economy through this recession.

Where is Mr Hooten getting his numbers of diplomats overseas from? None of the numbers he gives match the number of staff listed on the websites for our Embassies in the countries he listed. The website for the London
High Commission lists nine people, and while I, and Mr Hooten, might wish there were 41 kiwi diplomats in India, the website lists only eight.

"The main change will be that offshore diplomats will be less bothered by pointless administrative cables from Wellington bureaucrats trying to justify their existence. It’s a mere right-sizing." - Policy Diplomats can not operate without support diplomats, its a fact. Take them away, and they WILL have to bother about pointless admin work from Wellington at while at Post. They will need to learn how to answer the reception phone...holly shit.