Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

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House of Representatives
6 March 2012
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9. Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry—Job Cuts and Operational Savings


9. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Why is the Government requiring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to find operating savings and make cuts of $40 million a year?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: It is not.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table a page from this document, which is the briefing to the incoming Minister—the undeleted aspect of the document that the Minister released. That sets out that operating savings of $40 million a year are being required by the Government, contrary to what the Minister answered.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Minister is requiring savage cuts from his ministry, why is he intending this week to spend $26,000 to fly his delegation from Bangkok to Burma, when a commercial flight would take the whole of the delegation for $6,000, and is this his idea of leadership by example?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister is acting on the advice of the New Zealand Ambassador. The ambassador has provided that advice based on his own experience travelling in Burma. The ambassador’s note to the Minister’s office outlines the reasons for taking this particular mode of transport. The underlying bottom line is clear: if he is not able to take the charter, he should not bother going.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the justification of safety being the reason for this extravagant spending sustainable, when the ministry’s own travel advisory for the area that the Minister intends to go to is the same as for Fiji, where thousands of New Zealanders go each year without the protection and assistance that the Minister will get?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is not extravagant spending, for the reasons I outlined in the previous question.

Hon Phil Goff: If sacking 300 employees—nearly one in four of the ministry’s staff—achieves only half the cuts that the Government requires, what further cuts does he intend to make to find the other $20 million that National wants?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The underlying premise of the question is wrong. The Minister is not sacking anyone. There is a document out for consultation. He is keeping a very close eye on it, and in due course decisions will be made. It would be helpful if the member focused on the facts rather than hyperbole.

Hon Phil Goff: Is it correct that the secret ministry document that has been released to staff shows that he intends, under this proposal, to halve the number of staff in Cairo; if so, is it not true that Mihi Pūriri, if she had got into the trouble that she is facing now over custody of her children, was dealing under the proposed regime, would not get the assistance that she got from Barbara Welton; she would have got an 0800 number and an Algerian contractor?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Again, the underlying premise of the question was wrong. There is no secret document. A document has gone out for consultation, and one of the issues that arises is the nature of the consular advice that will be able to be provided in Cairo after the consultation has taken place.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table page 305 from the ministry document, showing that the number of staff in Cairo is intended to be halved.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he agree with the cable that he has received from his High Commissioner in Singapore, who asks whether the intended 40 percent cut in New Zealand’s effort in Singapore in the document is in line with the Government’s goal of enhanced engagement with Singapore and ASEAN, and agree that the Government’s action, according to the high commissioner, “is equivalent to a major reduction in our foreign policy effort”?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister has not had an opportunity to read that cable. He will give it his considered view and then answer the member accordingly.