What's happening at the
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 19:52 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 19:52 | SYDNEY

DFAT funding: Is NZ showing the way?



17 April 2008 15:46

A number of us on this blog have criticised or at least questioned the Rudd Government's cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's budget. But we haven't said what size foreign affairs budget we would prefer to see. Would we, for instance, like to emulate New Zealand, which has just announced a five-year, NZ$621 million foreign affairs budget boost, with overseas staff numbers to be doubled?

My political instinct is for small government, so I'm suspicious of growth on this scale. And it's not as if Australia's place in the world is particularly vulnerable or insecure at this moment in history. So how would you justify such a huge budget increase? Here's how NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters put the case:

He painted a picture of a service which was overstretched with the proliferation of trade agreements, the troubles in the Pacific regions, the emergence of climate change as a global issue, the need to expand New Zealand's presence in Asia and general consular services.

Australia's foreign policy agenda looks rather similar, not to mention we have just launched a campaign to join the UNSC as a non-permanent member. And along with climate change, Peters could have mentioned terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the threat of pandemics and globalisation in the broad as other phenomena which require countries like Australia and New Zealand to have a robust diplomatic presence worldwide.

So to square the circle between my suspicion of big government and my criticism of Rudd's DFAT cuts, I would propose that DFAT should get a substantial budget boost, but that it should come wholly at the expense of the defence and intelligence budgets, so that the size of government overall is not increased. The reason to single out defence and intelligence is that I think the Howard Government's response to the terrorist threat focussed far too much on the military and the intelligence community. Terrorism and most of the other serious threats to our security require non-military solutions, and DFAT should be a big part of how we address them.

You may also be interested in...