So Julie Bishop wants to expand our diplomatic presence overseas and to ‘fight’ for more funding for DFAT.
As I have argued before, there is substantial waste in DFAT and it should not be given more funding until there has been thorough reform of its structure, organisation and working practices. It is vital that the organisation be subject to greater competition – it has become insular and hidebound. This is to be expected of an organisation that has become inbred, promoting from within rather than from the outside.
To allocate more money to this dysfunctional organisation would be throwing good money after bad.
The nature of diplomacy itself is changing, and there are substantial opportunities for major productivity improvements in the delivery of our foreign service. These should be fully exploited and will only be available if the organisation is reformed. The organisation needs new public service leadership, drawn from outside the traditional DFAT circles.
It would be disappointing if Julie Bishop becomes merely a cipher for her department rather than a leader driving change.
I think there are two major forms of waste in the public sector. The first are organisations which shouldn’t exist at all. The Human Rights Commission, various climate change organisations and so on are examples of this form of waste.
No one is suggesting that Australia should not have a foreign presence. But the second form of waste is exhibited most tellingly in DFAT. This is waste and mismanagement on a grand scale by an organisation which is important to our country. This is a fantastic opportunity for our new foreign minister to wield the cudgels and shape a new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that will best act as the agency for foreign policy over the next 50 years. If Bishop can reshape DFAT in such a way, she will have left a fantastic legacy for future governments of Australia and ensured that taxpayer resources are efficiently and effectively devoted to foreign policy objectives. But this will require advice and assistance from outside the narrow sphere of foreign policy ‘experts’ that traditionally inhabit DFAT and its boosters such as the Lowy Institute.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some excellent employees at DFAT. Unfortunately there are far too many who should have been pushed out years ago. There is a lack of imagination in the way in which foreign policy should be conducted and an exceptionally poor use of technology.
Additionally, the merger of AusAID into DFAT provides further opportunities for the more efficient use of resources and productivity gains. Why should DFAT get more resources when it hasn’t yet exploited the opportunities from the merger with AusAID???