Editorial: This postie's a real plus

Last updated 05:00 19/05/2009

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The appointment of New Zealand's top postman John Allen as its top diplomat is an inspired move by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

It signals that this Government wants to place greater emphasis on the trade side of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry operations.

Prime Minister John Key knows that growth is the only way for New Zealand to succeed once the worldwide slump is behind us.

The Allen appointment, which ministers were entitled to veto, suggests they are very comfortable with what is an unorthodox appointment. The decision says that the National-led Government made it clear to Mr Rennie that it did not want business-as-usual at the ministry when current head Simon Murdoch departs.

Although the noses of those who could have expected the job such as, perhaps, Maarten Wevers and Rosemary Banks might be understandably out of joint, the appointment indicates that the Government wants a more tangible result from the millions it spends annuallyon the ministry and its international posts.

Mr Allen's imminent shift from the state-owned enterprise NZ Post to head MFAT has some parallels with the National Party's own election of John Key as its leader in late 2006. Neither man is encumbered by the ancient baggage borne by those around them, allowing each to take a fresh look at the challenges they face and at the solutions that might be offered.

In Mr Allen, according to one insider, the SSC has found a unique individual for a unique position, a man who instinctively understands that trade policy succeeds only when it and a country's political leadership are aligned.

Foreign affairs in this country has mostly been the preserve of diplomats and cast-out politicians. The ministry has never been led by a businessman, or anyone who has not earned his spurs by patiently crafting elegant papers on arcane aspects of foreign policy, or poring over the entrails of who might succeed the Dear Leader in Pyongyang.

This lawyer turned businessman has not spent years eating and drinking for his country at endless cocktail parties, forging networks with foreign counterparts, and forensically dissecting the nuances of others' body language, for transmission to the front.

He has, instead, been a successful commercial operator, who straddles easily the white line between the public service and private sector sides of his SOEs operations, and is not without international experience.

He co-chairs the Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum and is accustomed to dealing with ministers, which will make accompanying the prime minister and foreign affairs minister on forays abroad easier.

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He has, however, some learning to do. The heart of the public sector is different from that of SOEs. And some of those he must work with will resent his having blocked their ambition. Neither is likely to faze him.

But his is a bold appointment, and his success or otherwise will reflect on Mr Rennie, Mr Key and ministers Murray McCully and Tim Groser, as well as on himself.

- The Dominion Post

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