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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 00:27 | SYDNEY

Taking the axe to foreign affairs

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24 May 2010 14:33

In his budget reply, Opposition leader Tony Abbott promised, if the Coalition is elected, to freeze recruitment for two years in most areas of the public service, including DFAT. But what does this mean in practice?

DFAT has provided numbers on its natural attrition rate over the last five years, which are as follows: 86 (2009), 140 (2008), 116 (2007), 107 (2006) and 109 (2005). That's an average of 112 staff lost per year — or 224 over the two-year period Abbott is proposing.  

This freeze would equate to a reduction of 10 per cent compared with DFAT's staffing levels reported in the 2008-09 annual report. This, when the foreign service is already suffering from a major resource deficit. Or as the current Secretary put it:

...between 1996 and 2008 the Australian Public Service grew in general by between 25 and 30 per cent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade shrank by 11 per cent. By 2008 there were 100 fewer people overseas working for the Australian Government in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade than what there had been 15 years before.

When Mr Abbott gave his first major address on foreign policy as Opposition leader he said:

As the leader of the party, obviously it is my challenge to rise to areas of expertise and understanding that haven't been my forte in the past. It's always an interesting challenge.

If the Coalition is elected later this year, there might be even fewer people around to help him understand Australian foreign policy.

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