Boss defends Foreign Affairs staff shakeup

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Last updated 06:36 30/11/2012

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Foreign Affairs Ministry head John Allen has defended the controversial restructuring of the organisation despite claims that 40 former heads of mission have quit in the past two years.

Yesterday, Mr Allen told a select committee hearing that he could not confirm the claim from Labour spokesman Phil Goff, but said "the number isn't the story".

The real question was whether the organisation had the capability and the people to do a good job, and it did.

"We have a number of senior people who have been offshore heads of mission who are still in the organisation who are still providing leadership."

Mr Allen has overseen reforms at the ministry, including cuts to diplomats' entitlements, that saw a revolt by some senior staff and a rash of leaks to media and Mr Goff.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully also registered his objections in a formal letter, and the initial plan to slash about 300 jobs in Wellington and in overseas posts was scaled back to about 79 job losses.

Mr Allen played down the furore yesterday.

"The restructuring was carried out in a perfectly routine and ordinary way.

"It's simply that the consultation process [was] played out in the public arena rather than in the privacy of the organisation which would be the norm in change processes around New Zealand."

He said "a very small number of people felt so passionate about some elements of the change" that they thought leaking was appropriate.

"It wasn't, it isn't and you'll have noted that the ministry is not now leaking."

Mr Goff also asked about Mr Allen's $40,000 pay rise that took his salary to between $620,000 and $630,000 a year.

Mr Allen said the increase was set after a "robust" review by the State Services Commission and he had not considered turning it down.

"I have never done a job, Mr Goff, for the money."

But he also came under fire over a letter, tabled by Mr Goff, in which ministry staff said an interim contract had been given to Australian state-owned company Scope Global to manage aid scholarships.

The ministry's official advice to the select committee was that no contract had been let.

Mr Allen said he would investigate the issue. "I did not believe any contract had been signed."

He said in principle there was no objection to an Australian company doing the job, but Mr Goff said there was a potential conflict of interest because the same firm was working for its own government.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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