Diplomats rally behind accused pair

Last updated 05:00 18/12/2013

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An unprecedented delegation of the former heads of Foreign Affairs called on State Services boss Iain Rennie to sound the alarm over a controversial plan to reshape the diplomatic service, it has been revealed.

Former Secretaries of Foreign Affairs Neil Walter, Richard Nottage, Simon Murdoch, Merv Norrish and Graham Ansell banded together out of concern over the impact of the 2011 proposals under chief executive John Allen, Walter said.

The meeting between Rennie, Walter and Nottage took place as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade made radical plans that included making hundreds of career diplomats reapply for fewer jobs and outsourcing some consular functions.

A long-running inquiry last week accused two former diplomats, Nigel Fyfe and Derek Leask, of plotting against the restructuring and creating an environment in which staff felt it was acceptable for opposition to the proposed changes to be aired publicly and "for political purposes".

But in an opinion piece in the Dominion Post today, Walter is highly critical of the inquiry. And other former diplomats have also rallied behind Fyfe and Leask, labelling their treatment unfair.

The inquiry was initially set up to find out who was behind a series of damaging leaks of sensitive Cabinet papers - and concluded it was probably a State Services Commission staffer, who has name suppression.

But it mostly focused on Mfat staff and Fyfe and Leask, though it did not name them.

One high-ranking former diplomat said "dozens and dozens" of people in Mfat and in the wider business community had concerns about the restructuring proposal.

"This was an enormously radical change to the way that any foreign service anywhere operates and would have in my view . . . spelt the end of the career foreign service."

One Beehive insider described some of the restructuring proposals as "misconceived".

"We've ended up with a lot of people leaving, loss of confidence, and this whole process has not gone unnoticed by our foreign partners, at some cost. It takes a while to build up your credibility after this."

Former diplomat Michelle Wanwimolruk said the treatment of Fyfe and Leask was "unfair and unjust". They had acted "with great integrity throughout Mfat's change process".

The report accused them of developing strategies to oppose restructuring.

"Well, if that's what they are accused of then I along with about 100 other people should also be accused. Many diplomats . . . worked . . . to stop proposals that would have destroyed the strength of New Zealand's foreign service."

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An Mfat spokesman said the restructuring proposals were aimed at modernising the organisation and had benefited from robust internal debate, feedback from staff and other ministry stakeholders.

Eighteen months down the track the change programme was complete and Mfat was performing "very well" for New Zealand, he said.

- Fairfax Media

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