Australia’s diplomatic service

In August 2011, the Lowy Institute published a paper by Alex Oliver and Andrew Shearer titled Diplomatic Disrepair: Rebuilding Australia’s International Policy Infrastructure. This followed an earlier paper Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit: reinvesting in our instruments of international policy (March 2009).

The recent paper undertook to assess progress in

rebuilding our diplomatic insfrastructure since the time of our Diplomatic Deficit report

Among other things the report found:

  • Australia’s diplomatic footprint remains too limited – with the smallest diplomatic network of all G20 nations;
  • the size of the diplomatic service is too small: there are 37 per cent fewer A-based staff abroad today then in 1988-89;
  • the proportion of DFAT staff serving overseas is the lowest of 13 diplomatic services reviewed by the paper (although the paper was written before the UK decided to cut its foreign service by over 20 per cent);
  • funding for DFAT has not kept pace with the growth of other agencies such as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; and
  • demand for consular services outstrips resources and crowds out other activities.
As well as arguing for additional funding for DFAT, with more foreign missions and more officers posted, the report also advocated the greater use of  “e-diplomacy”.

I have a number of concerns with this type of analysis, and some more specific solutions to improve our diplomatic presence. My observations on the operations of Australia’s foreign service comes from numerous discussions I have had with knowledgeable individuals, including DFAT officers, and those posted from attached agencies.

First, the way in which comparisons are made to other jurisdictions may not be comparing like-with-like. The report notes that

… almost all government departments now have dedicated international divisions and have increased their international representation dramatically over the last two decades.

This may not be the case in the comparator countries; it may reflect a growing disdain for the capacity of DFAT to effectively deploy the resources provided to it by the Government.

Second, just because Australia has a smaller diplomatic presence is not evidence that it is under-resourced; indeed, other jurisdictions might over-resource their diplomatic services.

Third, time series comparisons are not very helpful. With the increased availability and pervasiveness of communications technology, there is considerable scope to source information and provide representation services from within Australia rather than at post. DFAT has been slow to appreciate these changes, with many of its cables reporting information readily available on the internet. This is not to suggest that on-the-ground personnel are not important. But it does suggest that the roles of such personnel (and the extent of the need for posted officers) changes over time.

Fourth, the proportion of DFAT officers employed in Canberra may be indicative of inefficiency or other priorities thrust upon it by the Government.

Fifth, the relative growth of consular services is related to the growth in international travel, although I suspect that there is a good deal of over-servicing by Australia’s consular services. Expectations of what the Australian Government should do for Australians (including dual nationals who can cherry-pick consular services) are clearly excessive – note that the Prime Minister phoned an Australian lad in an Indonesian prison.

From my observations, the work of the typical policy officer at a posting involves servicing visits by Ministers, MPs and government officials – effectively acting as a glorified travel agency (it would be interesting to calculate the total costs to DFAT and other agencies in providing services to the recent visit by the Prime Minister to Cannes for the G20).

Beyond that we get into a debate about the purpose of diplomacy in the 21st century and how (and why) a country needs (or wants) to exert influence through diplomacy. To this end, it should be noted that not all efforts of resourcing overseas’ operations are conducive to Australia’s national interest. For example, the efforts to procure a temporary seat on the United Nations are not only extraordinarily expensive but are likely to diminish Australia’s diplomatic standing by having to compromise our principles to secure votes from troubled regimes. We now have an Embassy in Ethiopia: clearly in line with Australia’s strategic concerns.

However, we do not have enough information to make a judgement on what should be the appropriate resourcing of Australia’s diplomatic service. That would require a significant independent study, perhaps conducted by the Productivity Commission. A study that would weigh the costs and benefits – broadly defined – of conducting a foreign service.

But for the purposes of this blog, let’s take the claims that Australia’s overseas representation is under-resourced as a given. The question then is whether more money should be spent on the current apparatus.

And I consider the answer to that question is a firm no.

The restructuring of Australia’s overseas service

Australia’s overseas presence includes High Commissions, Embassies, consulates and various other agencies. We have representation at international organisations such as the World Bank, IMF, OECD, EBRD, United Nations and ADB. It includes offices such as those of the Reserve Bank in London and New York; Defence and intelligence; trade commissioners; and short-term missions from Australia. This is all at the Federal level – there are representatives from State governments, such as Agents-General.

And in many Embassies, one will find employees of different agencies: DFAT, AusAID, Defence, Treasury and so forth.

Yet most of these are in silos, reporting principally to their employing agency (the Lowy Report notes this also).

This leads to numerous inefficiencies, overlaps, and poor coverage. So, for example, DFAT will often post a person to a nominally economic position (say a first secretary economic) who has no economics background.

There is no coordination on a whole-of-government basis.

That’s because the incentives are misaligned. DFAT posted officers (and those of attached agencies) are generally selected on the ‘operational convenience’ rule rather than by merit. This is understandable given the relatively small size of the pool of potential posted officers.

We in effect have constrained optimisation: DFAT only posts officers who are DFAT employees, even though there may be many more qualified officers working in other Government agencies.

DFAT has also created a myth around its graduates, treating them a cut above those who come in sideways. This discourages potential recruits and minimises competition. Basically there is a club which protects its own at the expense of a superior foreign service. Once again, a demonstration of the principal-agent problem, with the principal in this case being the Government / public and the agent the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Additionally DFAT appoints policy officers to its staffing branch – this is considered a good job as it offers an easy path to a plum posting.  This is bizarre – running human resources in a complex department such as DFAT should be left to HR professionals who do not have their mind on the next posting. The opportunity cost of a policy officer working in HR is the loss of potential further policy experience too. Additionally, having access to personnel records can give such policy officers an untoward leverage over policy colleagues and raises serious privacy concerns.

The benefits of being posted are significant: it should be no surprise that the average retirement age for DFAT officers is higher than the public service generally. This is especially so among those who receive an ambassadorial appointment with its chauffeur, full time cleaner, butler and cook – it also seems that many heads of mission are granted an automatic acting appointment for some unknown reason.

DFAT also has a poor track record of dealing with bad performance – indeed it has often posted officers who are unwanted in Canberra. That’s hardly an effective way of improving Australia’s foreign relations, posting underperforming officers!

This charged atmosphere, with limited posting opportunities (and as noted in the Lowy report, a relatively high proportion of Canberra- based DFAT officers) leads to a spoils system, favouring a clique within DFAT and to a lack of collegiality as individuals try to outscore their colleagues to secure a posting.

It also means that DFAT officers (with few exceptions) are unwilling to move to line agencies to broaden and deepen their understanding of public policy. While those officers not in the clique can feel discouraged and leave.

Is it no wonder, then, that DFAT has been increasingly ignored and feels isolated as international policy is run from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Treasury?

A career in DFAT is deskilling.

A whole-of-government approach to the foreign service

Before increasing resourcing to the foreign service, then, there is a need for substantial change in how we select and post officers. The benefits from a broader experience of public policy (both domestic and international) cannot be overstated.

DFAT should be reduced to an organisation that runs and coordinates our foreign missions, and perhaps provides consular services. Policy officers should be selected from qualified officers with the appropriate security clearance. Prior to a posting, officers should be given training to ensure that they will fulfill their role well and to prepare them for the new role.

On completion of the posting, the individual would return to the home agency or to another agency. Ultimately they could be posted again.

But importantly we would have a true whole-of-government foreign service. No more would there be a DFAT section and attached agencies. There would be a coherent mission staffed by officers selected on merit from across the public service. Selection of officers for a posting would be open and run by a small panel comprising an officer from DFAT and two officers from central agencies / line agencies.

This would inject long-needed competition into the diplomatic service, and improve the quality of our representation at any level of budget expenditure. It would break open the spoils system which has hindered DFAT’s performance and its ability to deliver sound foreign policy outcomes. There would be a considerably larger pool of officers available for posting, increasing the diversity of our foreign service.

And to further cement this improvement of quality, Ambassadors and High Commissioners (except perhaps the political appointees) should be required to have spent five years working in a central agency (PM&C, Treasury and Finance) or a line agency other than DFAT. Ultimately all policy officers including Ambassadors would come from the broad public service. DFAT would continue with important core foreign policy roles that do not fit well in other agencies, such as consular, protocol and bilateral desk work in Canberra.

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169 Responses to Australia’s diplomatic service

  1. Abu Chowdah

    An interesting fantasy that would result in more mediocrity, and the occasional random brilliant officer getting a one off chance overseas.

  2. Winston Smith

    Frankly, I’d close the lot down except for London and New York.
    Really, what do they do apart from living high on the hog? And don’t give me the bit about communicating with our nationals OS – one junior clerk could pick up the phone and ask what’s happening.

  3. Budgie

    THis is exactly the sort of policy debate we should have seen after the release of the Lowy Institute report. Time for a serious discussion about DFAT’s resourcing requirements and a review of how the department deploys its resources.

  4. Abu Chowdah

    Frankly, I’d close the lot down except for London and New York.
    Really, what do they do apart from living high on the hog? And don’t give me the bit about communicating with our nationals OS – one junior clerk could pick up the phone and ask what’s happening.

    Yep. Whatever.

  5. Dear Samuel.

    Thanks for an interesting post. I have passed this blogs link onto the report’s authors at Lowy, and will let you know if they are able to respond.

    I think there is merit to your idea of DFAT utilising the rest of the public services’ talents, though how far this can be extended I’m not sure. While economic policy officers have transferable/postable skills, is there much gain from those who work in Industrial Relations, Health or Education, and don’t have foreign politics or language skills being available?

    I’d also note that a quality diplomatic service is significantly cheaper than funding our military. The two have different roles obviously, but cultivating strong links and understandings about future plans with India, China and Indonesia could save tens of billions in reduced ‘hedging’ equipment such as extra submarines/tanks etc.

    Given Australia is also increasing its aid budget, a larger foreign service with strong in country knowledge would also help the efficiency and effectiveness of our Aid spending.

  6. Abu Chowdah

    Budgie, I agree. It’s a good piece, even if I disagree with the suggested solution. I don’t agree with all of the criticism, but I do agree with a few. Some of them show a pretty superficial understanding of the work of DFAT, but some are quite accurate.

    It’s been a few years since I worked at DFAT, and I was surprised that the paper released this year didn’t get more media coverage. Mind you, the government is such a clusterfuck that it was overshadowed by all the disasters.

  7. Samuel J

    Andrew – thanks.

    Yes, I think there is much to be gained by injecting competition. It is not so much that there would be a lot of people from departments such as you nominate that might be available, but the threat of competition is often sufficient in itself to promote better behaviour. And the behaviour that I’m pointing to is the closed shop mentality / spoils system.

  8. Samuel J

    Some of them show a pretty superficial understanding of the work of DFAT, but some are quite accurate

    Abu, which claims/opinions do you think are “quite accurate” and which are wrong?

  9. Abu Chowdah

    I need to be careful here. Probably better for me if I bow out of this.

  10. Steve

    Given Australia is also increasing its aid budget, a larger foreign service with strong in country knowledge would also help the efficiency and effectiveness of our Aid spending.

    This is like saying a large DFAT would help the efficiency and effectiveness of our miltary spending.

    DFAT & AusAID may be placed together overseas but neither takes advice from the other and they work very differently. If DFAT hired more development economists then that would benefit AusAID – but of course that wouldn’t benefit DFAT and such expertise would be better off actually being in AusAID to being with. So I thinkt the argument that a bigger DFAT will benefit AusAID is a weak one.

    If anything, the reverse is true. A bigger aid budget hugely helps DFAT because they take the credit in country. In developing countries where there is no trade, security or cultural relationship with Australia (and there are many of these) ambassadors heavily rely on being seen to deliver/announce aid projects to boost their in-country reputation and gain additional leverage. DFAT uses aid as a foreign policy tool almost as much as the Minister himself. Although not quite.

  11. Abu Chowdah

    (i heard people were put through expensive full-time language training at senior executive salaries when other officers are available with the requisite skills!!! Extraordinary.

    Where did you hear that?

  12. Abu Chowdah

    And did you get any detail?

    Did the person who told you that specify whether it referred to training in a new language for the staff, or rather in top up training for a person with the skills to boost them in advance of a new posting?

    One is crazy, the other very sensible. Don’t forget that these skills are rarely acquired so that a person works as a translator. Rather they are used for one of two key purposes, consular assistance and engagement. A senior officer at post is more effective with appropriate language skills than without.

  13. Abu Chowdah

    I’m not reacting to the merit issue at all.

    My unstated expectation is that whatever flaws you may perceive in the selection system would be further exacerbated by the broadening of selection to departmental staff who lack the experience and mindset (diplomacy has a culture just as defence and others do) to be fully effective diplomats, and by a selection panel that would be steered by staff from departments that have in many ways shown themselves to be failures at undertaking their own core business. I mean, really – a panel of seniors from PM&C, Finance and Treasury? Why not just throw the baby out with the bath water and have Kevin Rudd hand select all staff for OS posts?

  14. Abu Chowdah

    And even if it is “top up language training”, this is wasteful and useless at senior levels.

    Absolutely ignorant arrant nonsense.

  15. Abu Chowdah

    By the way, I am not disputing that staff for other agencies should be brought in to strengthen the gene pool at DFAT. I agree there can be a club mentality amongst the oxygen bandits at DFAT, and this can make it hard for mid career crossovers to rise. But the brilliant ones certainly have done so despite that issue which, to be fair, can arise in many departments that someone comes into laterally.

    I just don’t think this idea of one off posting fly ins would be wise, followed by a return to home agencies, even if it has a certain idealistic appeal.

    The only, only, way that selection of external staff for internal DFAT roles would work on a one off basis would be if the selection panel chairman was a brilliant diplomat with veto power. Someone like the secretary himself, Dennis Richardson. Otherwise you’d get some disastrous appointments of people who don’t have the interpersonal skills and professional knowledge to be effective policy officers.

  16. Abu Chowdah

    Getting back to the external panel for sideways appointments issue, the offensive but enduring conceit is that anyone can do diplomacy, but only economists can analyse the economic performance of foreign countries. Policy offices do far mo than act as travel agents for visiting brass, though that is an occasional imposition. Many posts rarely do that as a part of annual business. Meanwhile policy officers build relationships with counterparts, identify opportunities for diplomatic engagement, analyse a range of issues from the perspective of defence, soci

  17. Abu Chowdah

    Damn iPad. Hadn’t finished and now I have to dash for lunch with another retired diplomat.

    Hoo roo.

  18. Abu Chowdah

    I’m not reacting to the merit issue at all.

    To finish that thought before I grab a bottle of white and dash out… I of course agree that people should be selected on merit and not patronage grounds. I just think the proposal is vulnerable to the same issue compounded by the problem of lack of appropriate personal and professional skills and experience.

    Bye.

  19. Budgie

    i think Samuel Jay makes some valid points that should be discussed. It sounds like you want to protect the spoils system you have obviously benefitted from Abu. And for the record, I have little faith in economists or diplomats. The patronage system has ensured mediocrity in our diplomatic ranks.

  20. Abu Chowdah

    Is that what it sounds like? Okay, Budgie, thanks for playing.

  21. David

    I had a long career in DFAT. I am pleased I left. The people were great, it just was a terrible organization. Too right about deskilling, I have two undergraduate degrees and a MA, and have seen most of my mates 2 or 3 levels above me in the APS with much less talent. I was in DFAT for 28 years. I am ver annoyed that I sold my self so short! I work for myself and it is far easier to achieve recognition and income. Apart from working with very talented and bright people, there is nothing I miss about DFAT!

  22. Budgie

    Completely side-lined in so many policy contexts. An organisation in need of serious reform judging from the well-informed views in this article.

  23. David

    The Mate-Ocracy is no better or worse in DFAT than it is the rest of the APS. To a large extent it is better. I have worked in several other APS agencies and they are far worse on jobs for the mates than DFAT is

  24. budgie

    …well other agencies don’t have postings decided on “operational need” like DFAT does. Mate-ocracies exist everywhere, that is true. But DFAT seems to operate outside normal public service rules if the views expressed in this article are accurate.

  25. Abu Chowdah

    Ignore budgie, David. He draws conclusions that are at complete odds with what is actually written. It’s all based on what things “sound like” to him. He has a fantasy view of DFAT as the elite “other” riven with corrupt patronage. No doubt he’s posting directly from “Occupy Garema Place”.

  26. budgie

    There is an Occupy Garema Place? Why didn’t someone tell me? Must fly back home for that one. Of course DFAT is an elite agency riven with patronage ( i would not go so far as to call it corruption). You know it and I know it. DFAT friends have told me that referees count for at least 50 percent of promotion decisions. They also tell me you hardly have an application process for postings. It is decided by a committee and on the basis of “word of mouth” (talking to posts and divisions). Surely objective criteria should be used to make decisions to appoint public servants to expensive postings at considerable expense to the public purse. We are not getting bang for the buck if some a twat with little language ability and poor people skills is being posted to Beijing, Jakarta, ROme or Paris. I hear that happens a lot. In fact, I have met a few of them. Always amazes me to see DFAT officers stumbling through a business meeting with limited language ability and next to zero economic literacy. But I guess they are in the right cliques which is all that counts.

  27. Abu Chowdah

    The ones you know must be the incompetent third-raters. Get better friends.

  28. budgie

    Oh glad you admit there are incompetent third-raters in DFAT. Funny how a lot of them are in the senior executive.

  29. .

    budgie,

    Did you husband get knocked back for a promotion? My sources indicate you need to go for foreign postings to get anywhere.

  30. Abu Chowdah

    There are third raters in every walk of life, budget. You should expand your bitter horizons.

  31. Budgie

    I am very happy with life and my husband/wife/lover did not get knocked back for a promotion. But I appreciate your concern. I will always champion a meritocracy, that is all. And i will always champion healthy competition. Now go back to DFAT and score yourself that posting by complimenting your boss on her excellent judgment (or, um, her choice of shoes at least).

  32. Budgie

    The author of this article very seriously recommended a productivity commission inquiry into resourcing decisions at DFAT and to address the concerns outlined in the Lowy Institute report. If you care about your precious DFAT, you would be supporting this recommendation. DFAT is in serious trouble and the author of this article has made some recommendations worthy of consideration. No officer should need to falsely compliment their patron”s judgment or dress sense to get a promotion or posting in a properly resourced organisation with a normal human resources function.

  33. .

    Um dude I don’t work in DFAT but you are basically championing the idea that I should be rapidly promoted through their ranks. Thank you for your support.

  34. Abu Chowdah

    No officer should need to falsely compliment their patron”s judgment or dress sense to get a promotion or posting in a properly resourced organisation with a normal human resources function.

    You are completely ignorant and somewhat of a conspiracist. You’re an ass if you think praising your boss is what gets people on repeat postings.

    I agree that Samuel has made a strong effort to suggest ways to improve the foreign service. But as I have observed, they are likely to weaken the gene pool by installing non-professionals into temporary sinecures.

  35. Budgie

    Assuming that diplomacy is a “profession.” Doctors, Engineers, Scientists – that is a profession. Diplomats are just generalists with skills that can be applied to a number of PR, office, policy settings. Most “diplomats” just spend their entire postings summarising the media, meeting the occasional desk clerk at the Foreign Ministry and organising programs for visiting officials (if my friends at the local embassy are being truthful with me).

    As for my quip about complimenting your boss, I was merely illustrating by a bit of humour that factors other that merit-based selection are at play in these decisions. Please do not take everything I say so literally.

  36. Abu Chowdah

    I certainly won’t take anything you say seriously.

  37. Budgie

    BTW, I have been baiting you all to illustrate the point that people on the inside get very “defensive” about the organisation. A typical closed shop scenario. This is the problem with DFAT. People need to step out of this DFAT conditioning (which leads to a reflexive sheep mentality geared to protecting fellow-club members and the organisation no matter what the cost) and start thinking about what is in the best interest of the organisation. Start thinking outside the box about (1) what posts are absolutely essential to our foreign policy interests (2) how to reorganise the work of Canberra so that more resources can be deployed to overseas posts (3) how does DFAT professionalise its HR function (4) where will savings be made in the future given the need to continue meeting the efficiency dividend? Does it need to get an exemption from the efficiency dividend now that it is in apparent crisis?) (5) how to streamline the consular function which seems to be pulling limited resources from other core functions.

  38. Abu Chowdah

    Fascinating. You are the puppetmaster.

  39. Abu Chowdah

    You might have a few good points to make there, budget, but your offensive mischaracterisation of my career and gross misapprehenion about my purpose, summarised here:

    It sounds like you want to protect the spoils system you have obviously benefitted from Abu.

    Makes me disinclined to give you the time of day. I think you’re an arrogant, obtuse and mis-informed arsehole.

    But you may redeem yourself in time. Continue.

  40. Budgie

    And, of course, I know DFAT is full of interesting, talented, impressive people. SOme of the finest people I know are in DFAT. However, it is time for the organisation to change (even just a little;)

  41. Les Majesty

    DFAT is a tool of the Shadow Government.

  42. Budgie

    Looking at Senate Estimates reports, it looks like DFAT has way too many senior executive officers. Does DFAT really need so many officers at Dep Sec level? Do Ambassadors need to be deployed at Deputy Secretary and Secretary level? This is out of sync with the rest of the public service. Some of these saved resources could go back into core functions and funding posts in regional centres (Indonesia, all China posts, all India posts, extra posts in other ASEAN states). ALso, i would be looking at cutting back the number of officers in the administrative and consular ranks and redeploying them to regional centres. This is an outsiders view, but looking at other “efficient” diplomatic services, this would appear to make sense. Just a few suggestions.

  43. Budgie

    Just looked up the DFAT website, do we really need the following posts: Malta, Portugal, Hungary, Cyprus, Peru, Belgrade and Zagreb? I would be looking to augment Australia’s representation in ASEAN, NOrth Asia and SOuth Asia, as well as the Pacific. You could put more resources into three bigger hubs in South America: BA, Santiago, Brasilia and close the little ones. Wasteful and unnecessary given our foreign and trade policy interests. I see DFAT got rid of positions in KL in recent budgets. Extraordinarily short-sighted. Why is our mission in HCM CIty so small? Extraordinary. What about other growth centres in China? Interesting reading more into the AUstralian diplomatic service. If I had a few weeks I could really pick this budget apart and make some well-informed budget decisions. I would recommend bringing in outside expertise to review the DFAT budget. Not because DFAT is not capable, but sometimes it helps to have outside expertise. And that is enough out of budgie for now.

  44. genwot4

    Budgie-mudgee, you certainly pass the sniff test with flying colours. Thanks so much for this intelligence.

    Much of what you say applies to other sectors of the APS and the states. Are you a public servant now?

  45. Christoff-Marie

    Its hardly much use giving them more resources unless we have defined what they are supposed to be doing, and have people committed to the plan. They will just give away our sovereignty even faster than they are already. They will needlessly offend people they ought not, and at the same time pre-emptively surrender our cash and interests when they don’t need to be doing that.

    When our thieves get together with foreign thieves, these are business sessions. Our thieves have to know what it is they are going to squeeze, flatter and coax out of the foreign thieves. Too often we see this attitude that schmoozing is for its own sakes.

  46. Infidel Tiger

    I like to think that the diplomatic service is one giant swim through, with debonaire Aussie blokes downing as much French plonk and hors d’ouvres as they can stomach and giving knee tremblers to as many foreign sheilas as they have the energy for.

    Pointless otherwise.

  47. genwot4

    IT, the knee-tremblers are most likely to be experienced with and by the married wives of other diplomats and politicians.

    So yes you could say the diplomatic service works as a marriage stabiliser by providing lots of fodder and diversion for sexually and romantically bored high flyers.

  48. Abu Chowdah

    Do Ambassadors need to be deployed at Deputy Secretary and Secretary level?

    Not at every post, and indeed that is the case. Can you think why we would need very senior people at certain posts in the Ambassadorial role? There are very good reasons why you would be foolish not to post seniors to certain missions. Think carefully, now.

  49. Christoff-Marie

    Well then it would seem time for cutbacks. We would want to be culling the globalists in a series of waves of sackings. Since globalists use the machinery and infrastructure of diplomacy to do the opposite of what they are supposed to be doing.

  50. Budgie

    AC, of course we need senior ambassadors. My point is that they don’t all need to be acted-up to a higher level than their substantive rank. Seems pointless to me when they are already enjoying the perks of a posting. I just read a senate estimates report which indicates a good number are acted up above their substantive rank. Surely experience rather than $$$ should be the guiding principle here? That funding could be diverted to more positions at important posts. Lets stop this defensive rubbish now, AC. TIme to stop defending and to start thinking about how to make this a better foreign service.

  51. Christoff-Marie

    I would want to have an expanded diplomatic service if the country was pointed towards Australias sovereignty and interests, and if the diplomatic core was just white-heat intense in their patriotism. Like dudes who fake drinking, just to maintain control of the situation. People who memorise everything about their counterparts, and remember their kids names, birthdays, try hard to get a real bond with these guys, but all the time intense about what needs to be done to maximise Australian control of her own turf.

    The strategy for sovereignty has to be holistic. Trade policy, debt policy, defence, energy, the whole way through. The diplomats need to be a big part of that, because when you start pulling out of most of the international treaties. you need to be able to sooth the outrage that this will bring on. When there is a weapon system that you want, you need these people working around the clock.

    We would want to have diplomatic staff, working all 50 states and not just the less legitimate Feds. We would want them developing close ties with up and comers in the Chinese provinces. We would want them amongst sub-regions of some countries. But none of this is even worth one dollar if the diplomats aren’t working for us, in a more or less obsessive way.

    You need to be able to judge the underlying attitudes of the diplomatic employees. We would want to develop all sorts of character tests, and tests that don’t exclude such things as lie detectors in the taking of those tests.

  52. Abu Chowdah

    I’m not being overly defensive. You practically called me a pig with his nose in the trough.

    I actually think the service has been gutted by successive governments and needs to be built up. We need strategic vision, not fiddling around with the details at the weeds. Morale is bad enough without show trial austerity measures.

  53. Abu Chowdah

    I would want to have an expanded diplomatic service if the country was pointed towards Australias sovereignty and interests, and if the diplomatic core was just white-heat intense in their patriotism.

    You need to be able to judge the underlying attitudes of the diplomatic employees. We would want to develop all sorts of character tests, and tests that don’t exclude such things as lie detectors in the taking of those tests.

    Interesting direction. I actually agree with some of this, but the problem is how do you reverse the multi-culti relativism that has been downgrading Australian patriotism over the last forty years? The soft cocks who run the government – Liberal and Labor – would never go for it and you’d have the Greens mewling like littles bitches about it.

  54. Christoff-Marie

    “We need strategic vision, not fiddling around with the details at the weeds.”

    I agree but you’ve got thing back to front:

    “Morale is bad enough without show trial austerity measures.”

    Diplomatic staff morale means nothing to the people paying the bills, without the strategic vision and the white heat motivation to carry it out. If you are not carrying the cause of Australian sovereignty then your morale isn’t worth fitty cents to the rest of us.

    So the vision comes first. All appropriate largesses and then some ought then follow.

  55. Abu Chowdah

    As an observation – how in the hell do we expect Asian an Arabic countries to respect our diplomats and take them seriously if we don’t? If you’re whole aim is to browbeat the people who have made it into DFAT, in some Occupy-movement-esque drive to make everyone as mediocre and insignificant as everyone else, why fucking bother?

  56. Abu Chowdah

    Diplomatic staff morale means nothing to the people paying the bills, without the strategic vision and the white heat motivation to carry it out. If you are not carrying the cause of Australian sovereignty then your morale isn’t worth fitty cents to the rest of us.

    So treat them like shit and then wonder why they couldn’t give three poofteenths of fuck all of effort in the service of their country?

    You’ve got the cart before the horse, sonny.

  57. Christoff-Marie

    ” I actually agree with some of this, but the problem is how do you reverse the multi-culti relativism that has been downgrading Australian patriotism over the last forty years?”

    You keep hiring talent all the time, and you keep culling those whose attitude falls short of what we dream of. If you are for real, under this system, you would be up for promotion, with expanded staff and resources.

  58. Christoff-Marie

    The important thing is that SOME people will still be flying the flag for Australia, even if the others are down in the mouth and looking for a UN job. People have varying degrees of the right attitude. So the continual hiring, the weeding system, and the relentless culling, will change the attitude of the institution over time.

    My impression is that no-one is minding the store from the top down. For example there wasn’t even a program to get hold of the Raptor stealth fighter. Defence, Diplomacy, the politicians, it was like they had given up from the start. Since they didn’t even try, now the official story is that it was a hopeless case. This is not the attitude of any sports team destined to win any world cup.

  59. Christoff-Marie

    I’ve heard it said that in the old days soldiers could thrive on high casualty rates. They tended to be fatalistic and talk about that bullet “with your name on it”. But the point is not the fatalism. The point is the excellence in promotional opportunities that this sort of culling brings on. The knowledge of ongoing culling can therefore be very good for morale, depending on context.

  60. Abu Chowdah

    You keep hiring talent all the time, and you keep culling those whose attitude falls short of what we dream of. If you are for real, under this system, you would be up for promotion, with expanded staff and resources.

    You missed my point. You can’t change that cultural element internally until you change it nationally.

    Look old man, if you can’t read closely how do you expect people to have confidence in your wonderful, Stalinesque plans?

  61. .

    Oh God all the crazies together and Tillman throwing rocket fuel on this smouldering heap of shit.

  62. Abu Chowdah

    The knowledge of ongoing culling can therefore be very good for morale, depending on context

    Oh god, it’s Bird. Well I’ve certainly been played.

    I mean, I sensed there was something off kilter, but now I realise I have been wasting my time with the tar baby of the innernets.

  63. Budgie

    I agree with all the sentiments above. However, I really don’t care about DFAT morale or people attacking DFAT officers. Diplomats need to develop a thick skin. It is a tough world out there. We need diplomats that are white-heat intense in their quest to understand other countries. Is it true that some diplomats hardly leave their embassies they are so busy fulfilling internal requirements? I would expect all diplomats to be robotic in their knowledge of local authorities, up and coming politicians, local NGO and community groups/social movements, to be mixing with people from all walks of life. They should not be spending every evening in the embassy writing that crap I read on wikileaks. IT all looked like media news summaries to me. What a waste of energy. I can read the Economist and the NY TImes too. Big deal.

  64. Christoff-Marie

    Budgie is not Christoff-Marie.

    For awhile Abu had me going. I thought he was a patriot and therefore part of a potential solution. Turns out he’s another rent-seeker with his head in the trough, not even willing to provide a serious service for the people he feeds off. The people who raise his kids.

    Imagine someone in the small business sector wanting the money up front, in the hope that they will perform at some unspecified future date. Clearly Abu wouldn’t last the first wave of the sort of culling I would envisage.

  65. Christoff-Marie

    Sound comments by the way Budgie. Don’t take any nonsense from this tax eater.

  66. Budgie

    I am confused? Who is bird and who are the Tar babies? ANyway, thanks for playing and good luck sorting out DFAT in the future.

  67. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Nearly married a diplomat some time back, who is now fairly senior. Thought of the career myself too. Glad now that I abstained, on both counts. We keep in touch, so far he’s had more worries and perhaps less fun than me.

    Agree with Abu that to open DFAT up to a wider group of applicants from the public service with the usual validation techniques at interview etc. risking selection committees run by the usual Peter Principal fools would be counter-productive. From my (admittedly limited) observations you have to be schooled in the international diplomatic culture to be in any way effective within it. You also need people with real smarts.

  68. Christoff-Marie

    The idea is not so much to work effectively within the current culture. The idea is to change that culture. The idea is not to hire so much from the public sector. The idea is to sack many people in the public sector, but hire from the private sector.

    Abu tried to argue that we have to wait until there is a national change towards patriotism prior to getting results from the diplomats. Stall stall stall and always demand more money. That is his credo. But the lack of patriotism is weighted towards the parasitical classes. If the public servants are serving the taxpayer, it will be a natural inclination for the taxpayer to be patriotic. So when hiring from the private sector, we won’t be short of patriots. But if you insist on hiring primarily from the public sector, you are pushing against the wind.

  69. Budgie

    Christoff-Marie, I think your comment about head in the trough is right on the money. i have exposed the closed shop mentality that exists in DFAT and I derived a great deal of pleasure proving the point. Mr AC has caved under the pressure, resorting to vindictives and verbal abuse. Not very diplomatic for a DFAT Officer. Thanks all, it has been an amusing day.

  70. Abu Chowdah

    Lizzie understands the point I made, CM, you troll.

  71. Abu Chowdah

    What pressure, bird?

  72. Budgie

    But I don’t support public sector sackings. That is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  73. Christoff-Marie

    Look you parasitical worthless piece of shit. I told you once. Christoff-Marie is not Budgie. Although I must say that Budgie makes fine comments. I would not mean to imply that I’m distancing myself from his perceptiveness.

  74. Christoff-Marie

    Budgie we have to run strong surpluses. And the only way to do this without throwing the baby out with the bathwater is to sack many people in the public sector. We ought not deprive our old guys of a secure retirement, or fail to invest in infrastructure out of surplus budgets only. So the source of funds for surpluses has to be to grasp the money creation benefit off the banks, and also to close down government departments by the bakers dozen.

    Abu hasn’t made the case to avoid rightful culling in his department. Rather he has made the case that he ought to be cut first. You need to set up a situation of continual culling and hiring, so that you can throw out the bathwater, or rather the dead wood, like Abu, and keep and hire people who are willing and able to do the job, without contempt for the people they are supposed to be serving.

  75. genwot4

    Abu is an emperor without clothes, methinks.

    “I would expect all diplomats to be robotic in their knowledge of local authorities, up and coming politicians, local NGO and community groups/social movements, to be mixing with people from all walks of life.”

    Budgie-mudgee, wouldn’t we all.

    But exceptional people are exceptional for very good reason. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Graham Greene, John Buchan, Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carre, etc, have written about the exceptional diplomats and what they see, know and do. But they are the exception, surely.

    And many of the rest if not benign have their snouts firmly set in the trough.

    Thanks, Budgie, for filling in some of the detail.

  76. Christoff-Marie

    “But exceptional people are exceptional for very good reason. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Graham Greene, John Buchan, Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carre,……”

    Yeah come to think of it that George Smiley seemed like an ideal public servant didn’t he? After sacking a lot of public servants you’d want to be sniffing around the private sector for George Smiley types.

  77. Abu Chowdah

    Look you parasitical worthless piece of shit. I told you once. Christoff-Marie is not Budgie. Although I must say that Budgie makes fine comments. I would not mean to imply that I’m distancing myself from his perceptiveness.

    The imputation was insulting until I realised you’re just a trolling c***. Now it is just noise.

    I must say, that the next time I am eating a 140 dollar wagyu and drinking a bottle of 2001 John’s Blend while doing some consultancy work for DFAT, I will think of you wriggling in your chair with sand in your vagina and a cat’s bum moue of disapprobation on your dial.

    [This comment has just come to my attention – please remember we don’t approve of the c-bomb. Sinc]

  78. genwot4

    In which novel did Le Carre have George Smiley sack a lot or any public servants? Don’t recall that at all, Chrissie-Marie.

  79. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    genwot4, there is dross in every organisation, but fewer very clever people in some than in others. In certain spheres where one might expect good thinkers to prevail and even predominate (academia comes to mind) clever people are often blighted by some foolish baggage and mediocrity often prevails. I won’t say this doesn’t apply also in DFAT to some extent, but I believe it would not be made any better by dubious imports who would need to be hand-held by those who could otherwise be more usefully occupied. The historical culture of diplomacy is as you note, considerable, and I think worth hanging on to.

  80. Budgie

    Genwot 4, i think you are right. It is asking a lot to expect Jo Blo from Tugges or Belconnen to be a character in a Graham Greene novel. THough I suspect a great number fancy themselves as such. I remember attending a party in Beijing and finding the rather unimpressive ambassador awfully smug and acting like a character in a Conan Doyle novel. I remember almost gagging on my spring roll at the time.

  81. Abu Chowdah

    I remember thinking it odd that you choked on a small spring roll when it was well known you were a master at sucking cock.

  82. Christoff-Marie

    “In which novel did Le Carre have George Smiley sack a lot or any public servants? Don’t recall that at all, Chrissie-Marie.”

    Do you consider this statement to be some sort of logical argument? It falls short. If public sector sackings were routine, like back in Andrew Jacksons time, then the infiltration, and general dysfunction, of intelligence agencies, would not have been part of the post-war scene. The idea is to be able to send to the private sector anyone you are not fully sure of.

    The hysteria that the American public service came up with, when faced with McCarthy wanting to send people to private employment is difficult to believe……..

    ….. at least until you find the sorts of attitudes that a lifetime of parasitism produces.

  83. Budgie

    AC, careful not to choke on your wagyu burger. You are cracking under the pressure and that is a very expensive burger to waste.

  84. Christoff-Marie

    Hows that for a diplomat hey Budgie? Here the parasite is making you out to be a sissy.

  85. Abu Chowdah

    Budgies a man? Who knew?

  86. Christoff-Marie

    You are not a man Abu. You are a bum-sucking homo.

  87. Gab

    Catallaxy is truly blessed tonight as we have real working diplomats (or DFAT personnel) commenting here. Three of them! Abu, Budgie and CM. All current or retired DFAT guys and all speaking about their o/s experiences. Wow.

  88. Christoff-Marie

    Right. Two really though Gab. ABU is dead wood.

  89. Abu Chowdah

    Christoff-Marie, what is it with the Left and homophobia?

  90. Christoff-Marie

    CM? Oh you mean me? No so we are down to one. People ought to be listening very carefully to what Budgie says.

  91. Budgie

    And he is pretending to be the the former AMbassador to Beijing? Dear oh dear….undiplomatic and delusional. And he is a DFAT consultant? SOmething tells me DFAT is not getting bang for its buck there.

  92. Christoff-Marie

    You can never be a functional diplomat Budgie. Because I’m a right-winger and I’m not the least bit scared of fags like yourself. You get everything wrong. You cannot even recognise who it is you are negotiating with. We saw that with regards to 9/11, when your blood libel against the Arabs was in defiance of simple physics.

    Everything you will have done in your career would have to be presumed to be worse than useless.

  93. Abu Chowdah

    I never said I was the ambassador. Merely that I remember a chap who looked like a cross between Ron Jeremy and Rudd, hitting on the HOM and then choking on his spring roll. So that was you? How we laughed about it at the HOM’s all-staff meeting.

  94. Bring Back Tillman

    Abu – I think CM is Bird. Budgie has been too restrained.
    I find the discussion interesting. After 10 months in a different PS outfit I have changed my opinion of the PS a little, it is both better and worse then I thought from the outside. Definitely a lot of examples of people promoted beyond their abilities though.
    I’d still give the place a damn good enema. But maybe not use the boiling water.

  95. Christoff-Marie

    “You can never be a functional diplomat Budgie. ”

    Oh crap. Sorry Budgie. I was talking about ABU.

  96. Budgie

    Ah no, I am not in the public service, let alone DFAT. I work in media, but I am flattered you all think I could be a diplomat.

  97. Gab

    Oh, I understand now. Abu is the only one to have been in DFAT employ. CM and Budgie are just part of that singing group, the Pretenders. How special.

  98. Abu Chowdah

    Oh so CM is Bird. That is now certain. You realize all of your posts will soon be flushed away like intellectual bondi cigars?

  99. Christoff-Marie

    “I’d still give the place a damn good enema. But maybe not use the boiling water.”

    Of course you are going to go a little weak-kneed about it. You’ve been bought out. You have to expect a bit of battle fatigue, or at least attitude-drift, when you are now at the parasitical end of the food-chain yourself.

    You know they offered Paul Keating 100 million dollars to sell out. That would amount to something of a temptation. You are in the public service now, and you are only human. But when you come onto a blog anonymously you’d think you would be able to stay true to your roots.

    Keep it real.

  100. Abu Chowdah

    Bring back Tillman, I agree it needs reform. The Trade legacy staff are especially low grade.

  101. Christoff-Marie

    “Oh, I understand now. Abu is the only one to have been in DFAT employ. CM and Budgie are just part of that singing group, the Pretenders. How special.”

    GAB. Can you stop piling onto Abu’s lie that Budgie is Christoff-Marie. Its bad enough when that jerk makes that claim. You don’t need to back up this dope.

  102. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Gotta love those wagyu burgers. I like my wagyu best when cooked by top chefs in Japan at your table and served up like a circus performance.

    Have just fed a certain hirsute Irish person his lamb and potatoes a little mediterranean in style. In civilised discussion he opines that the only qualification, and the best one, for a career in diplomacy is a First in Classics from Oxford; nothing else really will do. End of discussion.

    And this from a variety of ape with a good first degree from Cambridge. Such disloyalty.

  103. Gab

    Can you stop piling onto Abu’s lie that Budgie is Christoff-Marie

    CM, please highlight where it is I have said that.

  104. Budgie

    No, no, I am not MC. but again, I am flattered you think I have the ability or inclination to post simultaneously as both MC and Budgie. You really are giving DFAT a bad name Abu. Such vulgarity and unnecessary vitriol. Enjoy your Wagyu burger now xo

  105. Christoff-Marie

    Why did you insult Budgie? He wasn’t pretending to be anything he’s not. Neither was I for that matter. You ought to have paid attention to what he had to say, and not be levelling abuse at him.

    You don’t know which side your bread is buttered on.

  106. Bring Back Tillman

    I’m not that anonymous Birdie, my name is pretty well attached to my avatar all over the blog for a few years now.

    It’s a fair point though. Lots of people working here are reasonably dedicated, and (never having worked anywhere else) see themselves as hard working. And there is no doubt I’ve started going native. Hate to see what would happen if I stayed in this job for 20 years.

  107. Gab

    It’s painfully obvious that both CM and Budgie – separate entities – have comprehension issues. And my God but they do parrot on.

  108. genwot4

    Gab seems to be a half-wit.

    Boys. Calm down please.

    Now I know for a fact that dudes like Abu only diplomatic contribution to anything approximating world peace and harmony is to provide advise on exactly what animal or plant species would be a good gift for the relative of the reigning chief pooh-bah.

    No wonder he needs lots of animal and plant fodder to obliterate the horror of a banal and cocooned life.

  109. Christoff-Marie

    “And there is no doubt I’ve started going native. Hate to see what would happen if I stayed in this job for 20 years.”

    Do you want to become like ABU? Is that what you think you were destined for? While you are yet to be fully seduced by the dark side, the horror of morphing into ABU ought to allow you to form a strategy for keeping it real.

  110. Budgie

    Viva GenWot4. You are right on the money once again.

  111. Gab

    Ah good old Philomenia genhalfwit. coming to rescue Bird.

  112. Budgie

    Agree with CM. Keep it real and get out now before you become Abu stuffing his chubby cheeks with the stuff he consults on. It is a road to moral and intellectual ruin as has been displayed here today.

  113. Abu Chowdah

    Lizzie, you’re man has the right idea. Mind you many of the better British arabists I have met studied… Arabic… At Oxbridge. Funny old world.

  114. Abu Chowdah

    Your, not you’re.

  115. Abu Chowdah

    Sink, clean up on isle four. Mop and bucket…

  116. Christoff-Marie

    “Ah good old Philomenia genhalfwit. coming to rescue Bird.”

    I wouldn’t have thought so GAB. I think its more a case of when you insult your well-wishers gratuitously, they are not in a position to back you up.

  117. Samuel J

    The last refuge of the scoundrel is to claim that a particular job (say diplomacy) has specific skills which are not present among the uninitiated. I have argued for competition to improve the gene pool. Yes there are fine public servants working in DFAT. But there is a lot of dead wood too. Is working on an overseas posting SO different to (say) working as the overseas representative of a major company? Are the skills learnt in the private sector or in other departments of State irrelevant to working in an Australian Government mission overseas? Do we really think that selecting people from a pool of DFAT officers for posting is superior to opening up posts to other capable individuals (who would need to have the requisite language skills for some posts)?

    The argument against the status quo comes down to one point: the Australian Government is taking foreign policy decisions away from DFAT. It no longer trusts DFAT to provide rigorous foreign policy advice. So the Government is doing what I suggest – opening up the gene pool. It is accepting competition. If DFAT is not to slide further into irrelevancy it must embrace change in the direction of increased openness to outside talent. It must actively discredit the spoils system which acts as a brake on such reforms.

    DFAT should be a centre for learning skills related to diplomacy, foreign policy and international relations. It should share this knowledge widely, thus in turn improving its own wisdom.

    The status quo will ensure a continued slide into irrelevancy for a once influential organisation.

    As a taxpayer I don’t care about whether DFAT ceases to exist or morphs into a more relevant organisation. I care that the Government spends taxpayers’ money wisely to get maximum leverage and benefits from our foreign policy spending.

  118. Abu Chowdah

    A scoundrel? A scoundrel is someone who badly misappropriated a famous quotation.

    To repeat:

    My unstated expectation is that whatever flaws you may perceive in the selection system would be further exacerbated by the broadening of selection to departmental staff who lack the experience and mindset (diplomacy has a culture just as defence and others do) to be fully effective diplomats, and by a selection panel that would be steered by staff from departments that have in many ways shown themselves to be failures at undertaking their own core business. I mean, really – a panel of seniors from PM&C, Finance and Treasury? Why not just throw the baby out with the bath water and have Kevin Rudd hand select all staff for OS posts?

    By the way, I am not disputing that staff for other agencies should be brought in to strengthen the gene pool at DFAT. I agree there can be a club mentality amongst the oxygen bandits at DFAT, and this can make it hard for mid career crossovers to rise. But the brilliant ones certainly have done so despite that issue which, to be fair, can arise in many departments that someone comes into laterally.

    I just don’t think this idea of one off posting fly ins would be wise, followed by a return to home agencies, even if it has a certain idealistic appeal.

    The only, only, way that selection of external staff for internal DFAT roles would work on a one off basis would be if the selection panel chairman was a brilliant diplomat with veto power. Someone like the secretary himself, Dennis Richardson. Otherwise you’d get some disastrous appointments of people who don’t have the interpersonal skills and professional knowledge to be effective policy officers.

  119. Budgie

    Thank you SJ for your excellent analysis once again. I absolutely agree that competition is essential and the dept should be opening itself to outside talent. It should be about maximising the effectiveness of foreign policy spending. I hope your suggestions are taken seriously by the DFAT officers and other public servants reading this.

  120. Christoff-Marie

    “My unstated expectation is that whatever flaws you may perceive in the selection system would be further exacerbated by the broadening of selection to departmental staff…..”

    No thats ridiculous. We must get the majority of people from the private sector. To suggest otherwise is merely special pleading on the part of a life-long parasite. We have seen the performance of a DFAT officer in the form of Rudd, who is specifically incompetent in international relations. We know this from him continually trying to buy love overseas, throwing money at people, with attempting to get us a stint on the UN security council, with his ridiculous attempts to push for a regional forum, with his idiocy when it comes to trying to delegate to third parties the hard task of dealing with boat people ….

    …. and on and on.

  121. Abu Chowdah

    What an endorsement, Samuel. You must feel like a feminist film studies graduate who thought he’d started a revolution only to find out his occupy tent was surrounded by street people.

  122. Christoff-Marie

    You are just a moron ABU. You are just an idiot pal.

  123. Abu Chowdah

    Hi Bird. Bye, bye, Bird.

  124. Christoff-Marie

    Well anyway. Q.E.D for me yet again. Even those who started off skeptical about the need for culling in the public sector will by now be beginning to see the sense of it.

    Thanks to ABU. Who never let me down.

  125. .

    phil as Ann Margaret? I don’t think so.

  126. Christoff-Marie

    “Hi Bird. Bye, bye, Bird.”

    I don’t even think that Sinclair will be game to help out a useless, parasitical moron like you ABU. You may to waving your wand to no avail.

  127. Abu Chowdah

    You are not a man Abu. You are a bum-sucking homo.

    Remember that, bird? You lose, old man.

  128. Abu Chowdah

    Enjoy your time here, Bird. Pathetic lunatic.

  129. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    HIA says Classics at Oxford always encompassed a very wide patch of thought of value to diplomatic endeavour. Influence of the Greeks on Montesquieu etc. Stopped many a gunboat in the nineteenth century.

    Samuel J, I like your optimism, but beware of what you wish for, you may get it and be disappointed. Your ‘centre for learning skills related to etc’ could turn into some horrible peace studies outfit.

    I was a delegate once at a ‘Co-operation and Peace in Europe’ conference in a swanky part of Paris (still have the little satchel), funded by the EU and the UN. Full of just the sort of people who would love your DFAT Elysian fields to play in. The wine was good but a lot of the ideas were very bad indeed.

  130. Christoff-Marie

    You see once the public servant parasite gains that contempt for the taxpayer, there is no use trying to reform him. You’ll never get that attitude, that makes him utterly useless as a public servant, out of him. Once a Beagle-Boy, Always a Beagle-Boy. You cannot get that ABU attitude out of ABU. You simply must get ABU out of the public service. For clearly he is useless, and not only not worth the money, but actively counter-productive to the culture you need to build in the place.

    When Andrew Jackson came to Washington he just sacked everyone there and started over. Now his country was more isolated then our own and we cannot really go that far. But this is the ideal. Because you can never have a situation where people have gained a sense of entitlement to their place on the public teat. The opponents of Jackson called it “the spoils system” but this is facetiousness. Its fundamentally the right way of going about things.

  131. Samuel J

    My unstated expectation is that whatever flaws you may perceive in the selection system would be further exacerbated by the broadening of selection to departmental staff who lack the experience and mindset (diplomacy has a culture just as defence and others do) to be fully effective diplomats, and by a selection panel that would be steered by staff from departments that have in many ways shown themselves to be failures at undertaking their own core business. I mean, really – a panel of seniors from PM&C, Finance and Treasury? Why not just throw the baby out with the bath water and have Kevin Rudd hand select all staff for OS posts?

    Well Abu, I don’t recall advocating KR personally selecting posted officers. But I think you are being somewhat disingenuous to suggest that changing the current selection system would be worse than the poor outcome we presently observe. Perhaps the culture you mention should change? Perhaps that very culture is the cause of the problems we observe?

    Some of the best Ambassadors have been political appointees. Who would disagree that Kim Beazley is the perfect Ambassador to the US? Yet Kim didn’t work in DFAT.

    The job of a public servant posted overseas (which is what a diplomat is by definition – all posted officers must be appointed under the Public Service Act or Defence Act) is to serve the Government of the day. It requires an appreciation of the culture / values / language etc of the country where one is being posted. It requires loyalty and service to the values of the Australian Public Service. And it requires sound analytical skills.

    I don’t accept that such skills exist in DFAT alone.

    It is all very well to say that outsiders should be brought in, but by leaving the current system in place will just continue the favouritism given to insiders – not on merit, but on connections within DFAT.

    In the private sector a company is subject to competition with others – and the ideas which you hold can then be tested. Company A claims that it offers a superior good or service because of the quality of its staff etc. But the market will arbitrate this and give its thumbs up or down.

    In the public sector, however, the client is the Government and only indirectly the public. The intensity of competition is naturally low. But gradually, inexorably, a Government can lose confidence in one of its agencies. It will start to ignore the agency; perhaps appointing other sources of advice.

    I’m saying that this point has been reached. The Government increasingly relies on PM&C and Treasury for foreign policy advice. Increasingly DFAT is turning into the foreign policy equivalent of Centrelink – a service delivery arm of government without much input into policy.

    Perhaps it would be a shame for this process to continue. Perhaps the Lowy Institute is right that we should increase funding for the foreign service.

    But what I have argued is that no more money should be allocated to the foreign service until there has been substantial reform to improve its quality and relevance.

    Or is my name Cassandra?

  132. Christoff-Marie

    The Americans appoint Ambassadors from all over the place. And diplomacy is something they have traditionally been very good at. Whereas the secret services are more inbred and insular in that country. Yet the Americans have been notoriously useless and counter-productive in intelligence.

    So its really all just special pleading from the uppity ABU.

  133. Abu Chowdah

    Some of the best Ambassadors have been political appointees. Who would disagree that Kim Beazley is the perfect Ambassador to the US? Yet Kim didn’t work in DFAT.

    I would. His predecessor was superior. But Beazley is a top bloke for a fly in.

  134. Christoff-Marie

    “I would. His predecessor was superior. But Beazley is a top bloke for a fly in.”

    You aren’t in a position to make judgements of this sort. You have no clue how diplomats are supposed to act to further Australias sovereignty, so you cannot make that call.

  135. genwot4

    Sam J, the pity of it is that many of us find it hard if not impossible to think of any way in which to stop or stymie bureaucratic nepotism, cronyism and the whole leg-up-for-mates bull that is endemic everywhere, certainly in the public service, and which by definition, and repercussion, amounts to an enormous blight on output, productivity, morale, stakeholder trust, natural justice and so much else.

  136. Abu Chowdah

    You aren’t in a position to make judgements of this sort. You have no clue how diplomats are supposed to act to further Australias sovereignty, so you cannot make that call.

    If you say so, old fool.

  137. Abu Chowdah

    But what I have argued is that no more money should be allocated to the foreign service until there has been substantial reform to improve its quality and relevance.

    I’ve got no issue with that. I have pointed up the naivety of your policy proposal for selection. I can understand that you may be disappointed that what you clearly see as a groundbreaking reform has not been met with approval except from the street people currently occupying the Cat.

  138. Christoff-Marie

    “I’ve got no issue with that. I have pointed up the naivety of your policy proposal for selection.”

    But it wasn’t naive. He’s right. You are wrong.

  139. Christoff-Marie

    Abu you just don’t have an argument. Its the usual special pleading. What is your argument? You don’t have one. I’m just surprised that anyone is taking you seriously.

  140. Jim Rose

    In ‘The Foreign Service and Foreign Trade: Embassies as Export Promotion’, Andrew Rose notes that embassies were important sources of information about foreign countries and they were empowered to make significant decisions.

    As communication costs have fallen, much of that information is quickly and cheaply available through alternate sources – the media and the Internet.

    Key decisions about foreign affairs increasingly are made at home and simply communicated abroad.

    Consular affairs do not seem to justify the expense and prestige of a Foreign Service.

    Export promotion increasingly has been seen as the rationale for the Foreign Service.

    Ambassadors, commercial attaches, and other members of the diplomatic corps play a key role in developing and maintaining export markets.

    Andrew Rose found after looking at data for 22 large exporting nations with 200 destination countries that that bilateral exports rise by about 6-10 percent for each additional consulate a nation establishes in a customer country.

    In his analysis, Rose takes advantage of the fact that countries have varying numbers of foreign missions abroad.

    Some embassies cover multiple countries. Some countries host an embassy and several consulates. The Netherlands has more than 400 foreign missions. Sweden has less than 100.

  141. Samuel J

    Abu – using the term ‘fly in’ shows that you have been captured hook, line and sinker. You are proving to be a reactionary by arguing for the status quo which isn’t working. I don’t think what I have written is groundbreaking reform, merely common sense. By pandering to the insiders, you are signing their death warrant.

  142. Abu Chowdah

    Right then, Samuel. We shall see. I appreciate your clear effort in thinking about these issues.

  143. Abu Chowdah

    By the way, I am NOT arguing for the status quo. Just against your proposal to dilute the professional experience within the service and your limited understanding of the importance of maintaining senior level language competency. My position is that I mostly agree with the conclusions of the Lowy institute paper.

  144. genwot4

    Jim and Sam have honed in on some of the core issues. So much of this antiquated rort is obviously a taxpayer funded sink. And given even existing technology and other resources there are decreasing reasons to have anything other than minimal diplomatic and support staff on the ground overseas anywhere.

  145. Lazlo

    You are all getting twisted up in knots. A First in Classics at Oxford is all that is needed. But failing that, something similar at Grouse Hill..

  146. Samuel J

    Abu – but you are arguing for the status quo, with some more money pumped in.

    dilute the professional experience within the service

    – really it is intended to bolster the professional experience. Do you really believe that the only good foreign service officer is one who works for DFAT?

    maintain senior level language competency

    – if you want good foreign language skills I suggest you look outside DFAT.

  147. Budgie

    Samuel J and Gen, you need look no further for policy irrelevance than the G20, climate change, the white paper on the Asia-Pacific Century, international treaty negotiations and international security. We see other departments have taken the policy lead in these areas that were traditionally the domain of DFAT. SJ, you have hit the nail on the head by arguing that the government has lost confidence in DFAT. I heard Denis Richardson speak recently in Australia and, by all accounts, he has tried to reverse this trend. But he is faced with a culture in DFAT that is resistant to change. Abu is a perfect illustration of the policy, intellectual and attitudinal inertia we are witnessing in our Foreign Affairs Dept.

    Thanks again SJ for an interesting discussion.

  148. Samuel J

    You’re welcome Budgie – my next target will be the banks who want to socialise their losses and capitalise their gains. Or as one person said, the management of banks deserve their bonuses because they were able to convince the government to put in taxpayers’ money.

  149. Abu Chowdah

    – if you want good foreign language skills I suggest you look outside DFAT.

    Indeed. But the point you made and which is wrongheaded, was that training for seniors was pointless. You are wrong but you can’t be expected to know, as I do at first hand, how incredibly valuable strong language skills are at senior levels.

    On the other hand, I think that selection procedures for staff commencing language training need to be far more rigorous. There are abundant examples of wastefulness in regard to provision of training for people who don’t apply themselves and don’t utilize the language once posted.

  150. Abu Chowdah

    Abu – but you are arguing for the status quo, with some more money pumped in.

    Since the status quo is an unfeasible long term decline in funding resulting in under representation that is risible when contrasted with other nations, I think it’s fair to say I am not arguing for the status quo.

  151. Abu Chowdah

    Fantastic comment from Sink in another thread, with slight recalibration by Professor Chowdah, which could ironically describe Samuel and a few others here:

    All this has given rise to another outburst of silliness about [language] standards and [patronage] in the [DFAT] system. I don’t doubt that all sorts of problems occur, but the issue is always a lack of hard evidence to support claims of widespread malfeasance.

  152. Christoff-Marie

    ” I think it’s fair to say I am not arguing for the status quo.”

    No no. You are asking for the status quo. What you are saying is what almost all tax eaters say. Give me money up front, and we may do better down the track. In view of what is known about organisational dysfunction, this is just an untenable, and powerfully dopey idea.

  153. Budgie

    If AC is the embodiment of DFAT, the organisation is in serious trouble. THank goodness it has had its funding cut.

  154. Abu Chowdah

    Mmmm. John’s Blend Cab-Sav. Yummy.

  155. .

    Abu is a perfect illustration of the policy, intellectual and attitudinal inertia we are witnessing in our Foreign Affairs Dept.

    Really?

  156. Abu Chowdah

    Enjoying a Cohiba Robusto, right now. Thanks to all of you tax payers.

  157. Johnno

    Easy saving: make posted officers pay a contribution for their childrens’ schooling. On a posting (and I’ve benefited) the Government takes not one cent, yet we can send our kids to the best school in whichever country we’re posted. The fees might be tens of thousands of dollars a year – no worries. The fees might include school excursions (including travel and accommodation) – again no worries, the taxpayer will pay for that.

    And, when we return to Canberra, the grateful taxpayer will pick up the tab for us to send our kids to the top private schools such as Boys Grammar for a whole term.

    What about other rorts? Heads of mission who claim a car allowance (ie: cash out their car) can still use the official HOM car and driver and there is a very grey area between official and private business when you’re the Ambassador. That’s an extra $20k in pocket.

    Or paying for all my medical expenses even when I take a holiday in another country! What about travel insurance – no need to bother since the taxpayer is paying for mine!

    There’s no trough like DFAT!

  158. Johnno

    I should add that there has been a good deal of public property ‘lost’ over the years at various missions.

  159. What a bog hole

    I am also a former employee and therefore feel I am in a position to comment on SJ’s observations. They are absolutely, undeniably accurate. DFAT is irrelevant and the unfortunate thing is the employees realise it but are trapped. They have no skills and are too proud to move to other agencies. Thank goodness I studied economics and finance – its enabled me to work in some real heavy hitting places which undertake meaningful work which require real skills. At my workplace, DFAT is considered a joke………..

  160. Kevin

    [email protected]

    If you are aware of any corruption then kindly let us know

  161. SK

    Johnno,
    Public servants posted abroad pay tax as if they are “resident in Australia” (including a Medicare levy for a medical system they have no access to while posted abroad), while non-APS Australian citizens working abroad pay zero payroll tax or Medicare levy. That is why the government covers medical and school expenses for their posted staff who are already paying, through the tax system, for the right to medical care and education. So it’s hardly a rort. If APS employees posted abroad and paying tax on the basis of being legally considered :resident in Australia for tax purposes” despite being unable to utilise Australian public medical and education services also had to pay for medical and education costs in the country in which they had been posted, they’d be paying double. Private Australians working abroad have to pay for their own schooling and medical cover in that country, but they don’t have to pay payroll tax to the Australian government on their earnings abroad. So if the government were to stop covering medical and education costs of APS staff abroad, they should also remove the obligation that they pay payroll tax on their salaries “as if resident in Australia”, and exempt them from it like other Australian private citizens living abroad are. Can’t have it both ways.

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