While the Prime Minister earns plaudits for his performance on the world stage and heralds a new era of multilateralism and middle-power diplomacy, a grumpy Department of Foreign Affairs is implementing both a $57m cut and, now, a new departmental review ordered by Stephen Smith.
The budget cut, announced in January, include staff cuts in such minor capitals as Beijing, Brussels, London, Riyadh, Seoul and The Hague. And the review won’t be just another review like the dozens of others launched by the Government since November. This will be one of those special “root and branch” reviews. “I just want us to be confident that we’ve got a very clear appreciation of what a modern foreign service needs to be doing,” says Smith.
If Smith wants to have a serious “root and branch” review of his Department, he could focus on the public service management culture that emphasises – as all bureaucrats do – process rather than outcomes. Crikey’s recent item revealing industrial strife in the Paris Embassy has prompted more stories of mismanagement from La Ville-lumière, which are continuing to have repercussions for Embassy staff and Australian interests in France.
Crikey understands that the Embassy has had an ongoing problem of containing expenditure, particularly by senior embassy staff, including a several hundred thousand dollar overspend in 2005 that has never satisfactorily been accounted for. This, and the considerable sums spent trying to track down the origin of the deficit, is part of the reason why DFAT pushed the embassy to attempt unsuccessfully to switch its locally-employed staff to a non-union workplace agreement, featuring a reduction in performance pay and a wage freeze instead of the usual OECD wage inflator.
DFAT also required the Embassy to reduce its locally-employed staff by five permanent positions. In time-honoured public service style, however, Embassy managers decided to target employees they regarded as difficult rather than those who had been there the shortest time, dispatching several staff with a total of decades in experience, prompting substantial pay-outs to the retrenched staff. As a consequence, the Embassy is still after savings, and has decided that 24-hour security will be dropped, saving three full-time positions.
Local staff, however, are hoping that David Ritchie, who arrived as Ambassador last month, will signal a change from the previous management approach. Ritchie is a fluent French speaker which, apparently, does not apply to several of his diplomats, including consular staff. He also has an economics degree. Being able to count might be help restore the Embassy’s problematic finances.
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