23 Mar 2012

Minister defends spending on flying diplomats to NZ

12:36 pm on 23 March 2012

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has defended his ministry's decision to fly senior diplomats back to New Zealand at a cost of $200,000 for discussions on changes in the organisation.

Mr McCully says he was asked by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive John Allen if he supported that decision, which he did.

He says Mr Allen pointed out the diplomats would need to make efficiency gains in their respective positions, in the absence of contracting out, and needed to be part of discussions on changes in the ministry .

Mr McCully said the money spent was not an inappropriate investment, given the managers were discussing saving some $25 million per year.

The cost cutting changes were unveiled by the ministry a month ago but Mr McCully has made it clear he is unhappy with aspects of the proposals.

The ministry is now likely to halve its earlier proposed job losses and end the idea of large scale contracting-out of work.

Former ministers critical

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, says the proposed cuts are too severe and would affect New Zealand's ability to represent itself overseas.

He says the process is a big mess and Mr McCully - who is resposible for securing funding for his ministry, has let it down.

Mr Peters says the minister is hiding behind the ministry's chief executive John Allen, in order to deflect criticism.

Labour Party foreign affairs spokesperson Phil Goff says it's dishonest for Mr McCully to claim he wasn't involved in the job cut plan.

"I know as a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for nine years that no major change is embarked on without having prior ministerial approval and ministerial involvement all the way through."

Mr Goff says ministry staff have lost confidence in their chief executive and minister over the matter.