Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Parliament replaces barbed wire and machine guns' for diplomat

Paul Foster-Bell. Photo / Supplied
Paul Foster-Bell. Photo / Supplied

The number of ex-diplomats in Parliament will swell to seven when new National MP Paul Foster-Bell joins the Government next month.

Mr Foster-Bell, a career diplomat, will leave behind the "barbed-wire and machine-guns" at the New Zealand Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, next month for Wellington, where he will replace list MP Jackie Blue, who has been appointed a human rights commissioner.

He leaves a ministry which has suffered the upheavals of a restructuring and job cuts that were resisted by senior diplomats.

Mr Foster-Bell said Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade colleagues had lost their positions and morale had dropped, but his confidence in the National-led Government he is now joining had not been dented.

"It's not easy ... when your colleagues have been made redundant, and in some cases, as Ihave been, reassigned and posted offshore.

"You may not agree with the exact way something's been implemented, but even in hindsight it was worth making those changes," he told the Herald from Riyadh.

The Northland-born MP had postings in two sensitive areas, Saudi Arabia and Iran, while still in his 30s. He admired Trade Minister Tim Groser and hoped to eventually follow in his footsteps.

For now, he is happy to have some certainty after spending 18 months on the fringes of Parliament, just a few list places away from being an MP. Aaron Gilmore replaced Lockwood Smith and now Mr Foster-Bell will replace Jackie Blue, after the next person on the list, Paul Quinn, declined to return to Parliament.

"In some ways it's the worst position to be on the cusp. But when you're working for Mfat you learn to be a bit flexible and pack lightly."

Mr Foster-Bell was a Young Nationals member when he contested the Dunedin South seat in 2002 while at Otago University. He says he has never been in trouble with the law, never smoked cannabis and was in kindergarten during the Springbok tour - so didn't really have a position on it.

He was National's candidate for Wellington Central in 2011, when he lost to Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson by 6000 votes.

Before his 10-year stint with Mfat, he spent eight years at university studying archaeology, law, politics, French, classics, gender studies and later business. He also studied a few history papers at Oxford University.

"I'm a firm believer that liberal arts in any degree are useful. I think a little bit more about where we've come from, human nature and the human condition - I don't think you get that through commerce papers."

Mr Foster-Bell will join Parliament on May 28.

Paul Foster-Bell

* 36 years old.

* Born in Whangarei.

* National Party candidate for Dunedin South in 2002, Wellington Central in 2011, 61st on party list.

* Deputy head of mission at New Zealand Embassy in Riyadh, former deputy director for the Middle East and Africa, deputy chief of protocol, first secretary and consul at the New Zealand Embassy in Tehran, and regional manager within Mfat's security directorate.

* Degrees in archaeology and business at University of Otago.

- NZ Herald

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