DFAT will reach 500 job cut target, secretary tells Estimates

By David Donaldson

Thursday February 26, 2015

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is on track to reach its target of cutting 500 jobs by the end of the financial year following the merger with AusAID.

Secretary Peter Varghese told Senate Estimates on Thursday that 374 staff had ceased employment through voluntary redundancy. Others had already agreed to redundancies but had not yet left.

Peter Varghese
Peter Varghese

Varghese said there would be no more offers of redundancies; the remainder of the 500 will be reached through natural attrition. Former AusAID employees comprised 221 of the 374 who have left, while pre-merger DFAT staff made up the other 153.

Varghese said despite reports that a significant portion of the department’s foreign aid and development expertise had departed, 1336 former AusAID staff remained and significant resources within the department are dedicated to aid and development.

He said the primary reasons for the reduction in the number of staff are the back-end efficiencies of scale — in corporate services, management, security and so on — attained through the merger, as well as the falling foreign aid budget:

“Clearly our numbers are different, but that shouldn’t be surprising because the numbers on the date of integration reflected the numbers you needed to run an aid program of $8 billion, and now we’re running an aid program of $5 billion, moving to $4 [billion] next financial year …

“Five hundred is a large number to lose, but bear in mind that we are running a smaller aid program than what we were initially structured for, or at least what AusAID was initially structured for when they came to DFAT.”

Tackling the issue of staff morale amid the loss of around one-eighth of the department’s staff, Varghese admitted there had been some “uncertainty”:

“As you would expect, if you go through a merger this big and this complicated, you’re going to have an unsettled period, and unsettled periods in my experience usually mean a certain cost in morale …

“I think we are now moving out of that.”

The job losses by category level are:

  • SES: 18
  • EL2: 55
  • EL1: 155
  • APS6: 70
  • Broadband 2: 68
  • Broadband 1: 8

Economic diplomacy

Estimates also saw some discussion of the government’s “aid for trade” policy, which sees foreign aid funds spent on projects to facilitate economic development.

The department revealed that currently 13.4% of Australia’s foreign aid comes under the banner of “aid for trade”, with a target for this to reach 20% of the total by 2020.

Asked how this represented a change from previous practice, Varghese stated that although Australia had long supported programs linked to Australia’s economic interests, the new policy “embeds” the idea in planning and evaluation processes by requiring each post and each division to have a detailed economic diplomacy plan incorporating objectives and performance indicators.

United Nations Security Council

The secretary stated he believed Australia’s time on the United Nations Security Council had “enhanced our diplomatic standing very considerably” by deepening Australia’s relations with other countries, particularly those on the council at the same time.

The department is putting together a publication outlining the achievements of Australia’s time at the UNSC, but officials stated wins included helping to get up the resolution on small arms and light weapons, strengthening the international sanctions regime, work on humanitarian access in Syria and the resolution on the downing of the MH17 flight.

More at The Mandarin: Australian aid program ‘haemorrhaging skills’ after DFAT merger

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