Ambassadors told not to cable cutback criticisms - Goff

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Last updated 05:00 09/03/2012
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Ambassadors have been instructed not to send cables criticising planned changes at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, after a series of embarrassing leaks, says Labour spokesman Phil Goff.

But a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Murray McCully said consultation with staff was a matter for the ministry rather than the minister, and Mr McCully had not sent such an instruction.

A spokesman for chief executive John Allen said staff had been reminded it was better to use a special online tool for responding, but Mr Allen had clarified yesterday that there was no restriction on using the cable or "formal message" system to discuss the changes.

Mr Goff made the claim in Parliament yesterday, and read from a leaked cable sent by the Ambassador to Argentina, Darryl Dunn, who described his assessment of the changes as "Armageddon-like". It follows the leak of a similarly critical cable from the High Commissioner in Singapore.

The proposed restructuring would cut staffing at the Argentina embassy from nine – which includes six local employees – to four.

The cable, sent on behalf of the three MFAT staff at the post, said lack of numbers would harm core duties, such as pursuing a free-trade agreement with Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.

Mr Dunn described the changes as a "serious loss of capacity" and highlighted cuts in the policy area, saying "it is difficult to see by any objective analysis how the cutback post could not be overwhelmed by self-administration and other difficulties to the detriment of core operational outputs".

Chris Finlayson, answering on behalf of Mr McCully, said the draft MFAT changes would be considered carefully.

"Initiatives that are judged to have the potential to impact negatively on New Zealand's diplomatic interests will not be entertained by the minister."

Meanwhile, unions representing foreign affairs' employees have disclosed details of a letter to Mr Allen from a group of 180 partners of ministry staffers.

In it they say they were encouraging their partners, who face pay cuts and loss of overseas allowances, to quit en masse. It will be handed to Mr Allen on Monday.

"We will be encouraging our partners, and supporting their efforts, to pursue a career beyond MFAT. We have travelled and served in inhospitable and insecure environments, accepted disruption to careers and schooling, absorbed loss of income and pension, and felt the impacts of long absences," it said.

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