Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 16:58 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 16:58 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Ruddernomics


Fergus Hanson


4 April 2008 11:13

Two readers have written in with comments on my recent post on Rudd’s announcement that he will now be staying with Ambassadors when he travels abroad.

Jerry Argyriou writes:

It’s interesting that business magazines praise leaders that lead by example in cutting expenditure – the real value is not in the actual saving of the leader per se, but the message it sends to the troops and the knock on effect in stimulates.  To paraphrase a book title 'The fish rots from the head'.  Considering your supposed strategic view of the world, what are we to infer when your commentary misses this point?

Jerry, I have to disagree. If I am right, and this decision means greater costs for the taxpayer (and admittedly they probably aren’t huge either way), I hardly think it will send the right message to our diplomats. DFAT is a small place – an embassy is even smaller — and there won’t be many who don’t know the implications of this decision. The only message it will send is, give the public impression you are cutting every corner possible, but behind the scenes, spend what you need. Very Yes Minister, but not very healthy.

As a false economy, it also speaks to an emerging pattern; cuts to overseas diplomatic posts was another we discussed. Instead of cutting positions, the government has just moved overseas officers back to Canberra, meaning even more people sitting in the sleepy capital and fewer abroad doing the job of a foreign service. So, just as Rudd is stepping up his focus on Afghanistan, he cuts a post in The Hague (where our mission works closely with our Dutch partners, and incidentally, where I used to work). And with a run for the UN Security Council now on the table, we are going to have 19 fewer diplomats abroad. 

And that brings me to a comment by Harry Gelber:

...having PM Rudd stay at residences will also have longer-term benefits: it might head off the never-ending Treasury drive to have ambassadors move into 'something cheaper' so that grand old residences can be sold 'for the benefit of taxpayers.'

I like your thinking, Harry. Having worked at the Australian Embassy in The Hague, home to one of our grandest residences, I am convinced Australia benefits enormously by having embassies and residences that convey an appropriate image of Australia. If you are going to spend millions sending diplomats overseas, there is no point skimping on critical tools of the trade. If having the Rudds stay over means we buy back a few of the better residences (at much increased prices, no doubt) then I’m all for it. But that isn’t really in the vein of economising is it?