Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: February 24

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive John Allen during a press conference in Wellington where he outlined his proposed reforms, including the axing of 350 ministry staff. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive John Allen during a press conference in Wellington where he outlined his proposed reforms, including the axing of 350 ministry staff. Photo / Mark Mitchell

'Cutting the fat out of Mfat' will be an easy political sales job for the National Government. Job cuts and radical restructures are normally anathema to voters.

In this case, despite Labour, NZ First and the Greens all rallying against the proposals, National should be able to convince the public that this is 'bureaucracy-busting'; bringing an archaic department into the modern age. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is very much part of the Establishment in New Zealand, and therefore it has escaped much of the restructuring and downsizing that the rest of New Zealand society has endured over the last three decades. As Audrey Young puts it, it's been 'untouchable'. For the details of the proposed reforms see Derek Cheng's Ministry to lose fifth of staff in radical cuts.

The strongest critique of the Mfat proposals, so far, has come from a Kiwipolitico blog post, In an age of increased international interdependence, NZ shrinks diplomatically. This argues that 'market zealots of the National razor gang want to cut all perceived public sector fat regardless of consequence' - which will lead to New Zealand having less sway in an increasingly globally interdependent world, less ability to avoid 'military entanglements', and ultimately more costs as a result. Another potentially controversial aspect to the Mfat restructuring is the proposal to axe the Maori Policy Unit in the ministry - see: MFAT proposes scrapping Maori policy unit.

Not all commenters are opposed. Stephen Franks points out that this week's Economist magazine says that New Zealand has as many diplomats as India ('the world's second-most-populous country'). Tim Selwyn is also not a fan of the ministry and argues that the diplomats 'had it coming' - see: MFatigue. David Farrar also usefully canvasses the Mfat proposals in Restructuring the first deep cut.

Related to the Mfat changes, the leaked Murray McCully emails are still in the news - especially because of what they reveal about the Government's orientation to China - see Patrick Gower's Leaked emails 'not terribly embarrassing' - Key.

The changes to Mfat are part of a broader public service restructuring programme, and Audrey Young has explained why bigger changes are coming - see: English to public sector: Better services, same money. National is planning significant changes in other sectors too - Brian Fallow reports that National's welfare reforms will 'be under way in the next few months - see: Surplus by 2015 'still in sight' and Andrea Vance reports on Major courts overhaul proposed.

The Government's perceived backdown on the issue of including 'Section 9' Treaty commitments in the asset sales legislation is a major victory for the Maori Party - see: Claire Trevett's Walkout still on cards over asset sales. Electorally, it will allow the party to justify its relevance and involvement in government. However, the Maori Party has in fact compromised, and now accept that Treaty obligations 'only bind the Crown, and not the 49% of private investors' - see: Private shareholders now OK with Maori Party. For a substantial critique of the compromise, see Joshua Hitchcock's Much Ado About Nothing? on his Maori Law and Politics blog. Hitchcock argues that Maori have lost a huge opportunity to ensure better protection of Maori interests, and that 'Section 9 is essentially meaningless in the day-to-day operations of a State-Owned Enterprise'.

Also on the broader topic of asset sales, see Chris Trotter's Political damage certain over National's privatisation plans, and Robert Patman's Asset sales plan linked to international trends.

Other important items today include Tim Watkin's On the matter of coming 2nd and yet winning, Matthew Dearnaley's Port workers' 3 week strike: 'Nothing to lose', and John Drinnan's Finn and co race to rescue Kiwi radio.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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