Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 02:37 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 02:37 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Paying for our foreign policy


Sam Roggeveen


14 April 2008 09:47

Carl Ungerer responds to Andrew Shearer's post on recent DFAT budget cuts:

Shearer rightly points out that DFAT is ‘cash strapped’. But the under-investment in foreign policy didn’t just happen overnight. The Howard Government froze the DFAT budget in 1996. Staffing levels dropped from 2521 in June 1996 to just over 2000 today – a reduction of over 20 per cent. And, consistent with the previous government’s distaste for multilateralism, the worst areas hit were those divisions dealing with the UN and other international organisations. As Russell Trood correctly points out his recent Lowy paper, the operating budget of DFAT has remained virtually unchanged for the past decade.

Shearer repeats the tabloid claim that a bid for a UN Security Council seat will cost $40 million. But this is a furphy, and Shearer knows it. As the Foreign Minister told an ASPI dinner in Sydney on Wednesday night, Australia is not in the business of opening new diplomatic missions just to secure a vote in the UN.

The Foreign Minister has also announced a ‘root and branch’ review of DFAT and the conduct of our diplomacy. This is welcome and overdue. Perhaps in deciding on funding priorities in DFAT, closer attention will be paid to the number of individuals in the department at level of Deputy Secretary. At last count, there were nearly 16. Cutting just one of them would pay for five new graduates.