[Sitting date: 21 March 2012. Volume:678;Page:1150. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Have New Zealand heads of mission overseas been recalled to a meeting in Wellington on 2 April, and if so what is the cost of holding this meeting?
McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs)
: No head of mission has been recalled. The member should know that that term has a particular connotation in the diplomatic community, and it does not apply in this instance. It is now clear that significant modifications are called for to the change proposals circulated to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff. To the extent that large-scale outsourcing arrangements are not proceeded with, different arrangements involving enhanced responsibilities—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I implied no such connotation in the use of the word “recall”. Recall, to most New Zealanders, would mean “to call back to New Zealand”. I therefore ask you to ask the Minister to answer my question, which did not have the connotations he alleged.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have got to accept the Minister’s interpretation of a question. However, the question was very specific and did not invite the Minister to carry on with the information he was providing to the House. The Minister has denied that heads of mission overseas have been recalled to a meeting in Wellington. He has denied that. That leaves, I would have thought, the questioner with very good supplementary question material. But the Minister should not go on with the rest of the information he was providing, because the primary question did not ask anything about that. It asked whether or not heads of mission had been recalled to a meeting in Wellington on 2 April, and if so, what the cost is of holding this meeting. It did not ask about other arrangements, at all. The Minister has interpreted the question in the way he did, but there is, I would have thought, plenty of room for supplementary questions.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the ministry bringing back its heads of mission from overseas on 2 April, and if so, what is the cost of doing that?
McCULLY: It is now clear that significant modifications are called for to the change proposals—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are hearing a regurgitation of the previous answer. It is not answering a very simple and direct question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the member’s complaint is a fair point of order. The question was very specific. It asked whether heads of mission were being brought back to Wellington for a meeting on 2 April. I do not want to get it wrong. What I will do, in the circumstances, is invite the Hon Phil Goff to repeat his question.
Hon Phil Goff: Have heads of mission been called back to New Zealand to a meeting in Wellington on 2 April, and, if so, what is the cost of doing that?
McCULLY: The chief executive has signalled to heads of mission that they can expect an invitation to a meeting in Wellington in April to discuss their roles in the change process. This has been necessitated by the fact that large-scale outsourcing proposals involved in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade consultation process will not be proceeded with. Many, but not all, heads of mission are likely to attend. I am advised that the process is likely to cost around $200,000. Given the key role that our heads of mission will play in achieving $25 million a year in operating economies, that does not appear to me to be unreasonable.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Minister telling the House that he is bringing back most heads of mission, at the cost of at least $200,000, to tell them that his restructuring proposals are not going to go ahead in the form that he proposed, because they are unworkable?
McCULLY: Let me be very clear about this. I have not asked the heads of mission to come to Wellington. The chief executive has invited heads of mission to come to Wellington for the meeting. I have indicated to the chief executive that I support him in issuing that invitation. The proposals that have been put out to staff for consultation clearly require significant modifications, and those modifications will involve an enhanced role for those heads of mission. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the Hon Phil Goff for a further supplementary question, I take his supplementary questions to be serious. I ask his colleagues to enable the Minister to be heard.
Hon Phil Goff: Has the Minister allowed to be spent millions of dollars on consultants for the change process, 34 staff to be listed in his staff directory as being in the change programme office, and now several hundred thousand dollars to be spent to bring the heads of mission back, all to tell them that the proposals that he has been labouring on for over a year are not going ahead?
McCULLY: The chief executive circulated detailed proposals for change, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade needs to undergo significant modernisation to ensure, for a start, that its footprint comes close to matching the significant changes that have taken place in New Zealand’s trade and economic interests. The member might like to reflect on the fact that Mr Allen confronts this task because that member was asleep on the job when he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Minister now telling the House that it is all Mr Allen’s fault, and that, in fact, Mr Allen did not consult with him closely at every step of the way about the direction of the change and the fact that he, as Minister, expected $40 million in cuts from his ministry?
McCULLY: I have made it very clear that the proposal circulated to ministry staff comes from ministry management, and not from me. Any concerns that I had about those proposals were made known to the management prior to that consultation process. Many of those concerns have been reflected in the feedback from heads of mission and from staff. Now that that process is drawing to a close, I want to facilitate decisions that will ensure further work can take place in those areas in which productive change can occur, but also ensure that debate can be curtailed in those areas where it would only be destructive for it to continue.
Hon Phil Goff: Does this Minister take no responsibility for the restructuring proposals and the $40 million in cuts, and are those $40 million of cuts in this document all a figment of the imagination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
McCULLY: I can confirm that a figure of $25 million of economies was sought in a letter sent to the chief executive by Treasury and by the State Services Commission. Certainly, in part the proposals that have been put forward by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade management team are an attempt to meet that request from Treasury and the State Services Commission. They are also, though, a significant attempt to modernise a ministry that has escaped change for many decades. I invite the member to consider whether, in part, this is necessitated by the neglect of previous Ministers like himself.
Hon Phil Goff: Are the Minister and the Government expecting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to make savings of $40 million per year by 2014, which it states in its briefing to him it is required to do?
McCULLY: The member is confused. The briefing to the incoming Minister was written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade without knowing who had been elected as the Government, and who the Minister being appointed was. The figure that I refer to is a figure of $24 million, which is contained in a letter from the Secretary to the Treasury and the State Services Commissioner to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and that is the request that I have told him I support.