More criticism over MFAT spending

By Amelia Romanos

Foreign Affair Minister Murray McCully has denied that a $1.3 million makeover for the Niue high commissioner's residence is going ahead. File photo / NZPA
Foreign Affair Minister Murray McCully has denied that a $1.3 million makeover for the Niue high commissioner's residence is going ahead. File photo / NZPA

Labour has continued its attack on the Government's foreign affairs priorities, accusing it of planning a $1.3 million makeover for the Niue high commissioner's residence amid plans to cut staff.

However, Foreign Affair Minister Murray McCully denied the renovations were going ahead, and stressed that the ministry had been told to cut back on non-essential spending.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff told Parliament today that documents showed plans for a luxury upgrade of the residence, which is the home to High Commissioner Mark Blumsky, a former National MP.

"Why would you spend that much money in a very small country of 1100 people, while at the same time you're getting ready to sack 63 core staff members in foreign affairs?"

Mr Goff also questioned plans to build a swimming pool at New Zealand's Tokyo embassy, which he said would cost $903,000.

Mr McCully said the suggestion that "large sums of money" were being spent on swimming pools while jobs were under threat were "ridiculous".

"The document that I understand to be in question was an engineer's recommendation ... it was distributed to those who might tender for the outsourcing work should such outsourcing work proceed. There is no proposal to spend money at the moment."

Mr McCully said there had been a recommendation to upgrade the Niue residence, but Mr Blumsky had told him the idea was "barking mad" and he agreed, and passed that message on to the ministry.

"In January of this year, when it became clear to me that some jobs in the ministry were on the line, I asked to see the chief executive, and I told him that I thought all non-essential capital expenditure should cease if there was to be discussion about staff positions going," Mr McCully told Parliament.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief executive John Allen last week announced a proposal that would cut 305 ministry jobs, including 63 diplomatic and policy positions. He stressed that the plan was not a "done deal" and staff had a month to provide feedback.

- APNZ

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