Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 11:37 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 11:37 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Who wants to work at DFAT?


Sam Roggeveen


16 April 2008 17:24

Christian Bennett writes (my response follows):

It will be an entertaining year watching Andrew Shearer and Carl Ungerer slug it out on The Interpreter. But I wonder if they will shine a brighter light on what I suspect they both would agree is a weeping sore for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade — very weak human resource management. After all, why have these two intelligent foreign policy minds, irrespective of their underlying politics, left DFAT?  One thing is likely — their former employer would neither have sought to understand not interpret their decision. Unlike best practice private sector employers, DFAT does not keep a finger on the pulse of its employees or seek to understand why those in which millions of  dollars of taxpayers funds have been invested choose to leave.

DFAT's ability to prosecute a robust advocacy of our national interest is not just a quantitative debate about the level of funding. There is a qualitative dimension for which there is increasing empirical evidence to suggest that DFAT is not retaining those that should be being groomed for leading our diplomatic efforts in the years ahead. A root and branch review of DFAT is an excellent idea. An early starting point should be how DFAT manages its most important asset — its people.

Christian may be right that DFAT has a problem retaining quality people, but I recall seeing statistics that its overall retention rates are far higher than any other government department, and that's largely because its people love being posted overseas. As for quality, having worked there for two years, my anecdotal observation was that DFAT attracted the cream of the graduate pool, again largely because of the glamour of foreign postings (Defence, by contrast, offers more interesting and varied work for graduates, and much faster promotion, but very few posting opportunities). So there's really not much incentive for DFAT to reform its practices.