DFAT cuts to come from key regional posts

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday August 20, 2020

A Chinese paramilitary man guards the entrance to the Australian embassy in Beijing, (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s planned job cuts will come from overseas postings in Beijing, Jakarta, Manila, Tokyo, Mexico, Port Moresby, and Baghdad.

The news comes a month after it was revealed that 50 Canberra-based DFAT jobs would be slashed, with a further 10 international roles to go, for financial reasons.

The Australian on Wednesday reported that two of those 10 would be cut from the Australian embassy in Beijing — ­including one related to human rights — with another two to be slashed from the Australian high commission in Port Moresby.

The remaining six jobs would be cut from Australia’s embassies in Jakarta, Manila, Tokyo, Mexico and Baghdad.

Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Hub project leader Dr Tess Newton Cain has previously said the decision to cut roles from Port Moresby was “a mistake”.

“When it comes to literacy and knowing what’s going on, it’s really important that more Australian diplomats spend time in Pacific island countries including Papua New Guinea, not fewer,” she said.

In May, the department launched a policy document outlining plans to strengthen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region in order to overcome the impacts of COVID-19.

The document described the Pacific and Southeast Asia, with the Pacific, Timor-Leste and Indonesia as “first-tier priorities”, due to being “our closest neighbours, where we have the strongest national interests in providing support and where we can have the greatest impact”.

It said Australia would use all levers of government, including diplomacy, trade, economic, and security partnerships, “to ensure our development efforts can have greatest impact and are aligned with our strategic, foreign policy and economic objectives”.

A DFAT spokesperson told The Australian that the cuts overseas would not impact the department’s commitment to “delivering on the government’s foreign policy, trade and development agenda”.

Read more: DFAT launches new policy for Indo-Pacific pandemic response and recovery

Last month foreign affairs shadow minister Penny Wong said Australia’s diplomats were crucial to Australia’s national interests in an “increasingly complex world”.

“If we are truly going to keep Australians secure and promote our national interest, we need to be more self-reliant and ambitious in our foreign policy. Australia’s diplomats are critical to this,” she said.

After learning that one of the people to be withdrawn from Beijing was responsible for monitoring human rights abuses, Wong questioned the message that the decision to “cut engagement with China on human rights” would send.

The DFAT spokesperson said engagement on human rights issues remained “a core part of the fabric of all our bilateral relationships”.

The department also recently terminated more than 30 IT contractors from the Information Management & Technology Division due to budget pressures, with more cuts to come, according to iTnews. Meanwhile, ABC News reported that up to 100 contractors had been sacked.

Read more: Australia makes its position on China clear in ministerial meeting with US


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