Saturday 13 Aug 2022 | 22:47 | SYDNEY
Saturday 13 Aug 2022 | 22:47 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Rebuilding Australian diplomacy

31 October 2012 11:41

Kate Grayson writes:

Following on from Alex Oliver's post, another two significant reports have been released in recent days in relation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. DFAT's Annual Report 2011-2012 and the release of the Incoming Briefs for the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, draw further attention to the overstretched and underfunded Department.

The Incoming Brief (Part one) includes a section titled 'The Department in Brief' which outlines the staffing and resourcing of DFAT. According to the brief (p.17):

  • Since 1996
    • total APS employees across all agencies has grown by 16.27 percent
    • DFAT has increased by 0.3 per cent
      • DFAT’s staff overseas has declined by 13.7 per cent.

It goes on to further detail (p.17):

  • The number of diplomatic posts operated by Australia is less than any other comparable country (Australia is the 13th largest economy in the world)
    • of the 30 OECD members, only Ireland, Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic and New Zealand operate fewer posts than Australia
    • all other G20 member states have a bigger diplomatic footprint than Australia.

In the DFAT Annual Report 2011-2012, the former Secretary, Dennis Richardson, outlines in the 'Secretary's Review', his views about the challenges facing the Department. According to Richardson (p.7):

The fourth big challenge is the obvious one of resources. It is clear that the fiscal environment will remain tight for some time to come. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will need to continue to absorb its fair share of pain. And the pain for the department will be more acute than for some other parts of government, given that we did not grow during the times of plenty in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Australia's under representation abroad compared to other countries has been well documented in studies by the Lowy Institute and others. The challenge will reside, in large part, within the department itself.

Given the release of these documents coupled with the White Paper and the report into Australia's overseas representation, DFAT's 'pain' is obvious and can only be alleviated by a substantial commitment to a boost in funding well into the future. The challenge ahead for the Government is to repair and rebuild Australia's diplomatic service.