We should not be surprised hear Winston Peters bleating about the planned Foreign Affairs job losses and the closure of overseas posts.
He’s strong on spending public money but Alf can’t recall him being too strong on finding ways of making savings.
The job cuts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade were portended in a State Services Commission report last year. The ministry was looking at slashing 200 jobs out of almost 1000, it said.
The newspapers today are saying an announcement on the details is expected soon.
That’s given Peters a platform for prattling about the implications, although Peters has a knack for turning anything into a platform for prattling.
Peters, a former minister of foreign affairs who negotiated a big increase in funding for the portfolio, said a “slash and burn exercise” would seriously affect this country’s overseas trade.
He said the move was a “serious, retrograde step” at a time New Zealand was desperately trying to increase its export trade.
Just a few years ago, let’s remember, Peters secured a $621 million increase for MFAT funding, over five years, which would deliver 100 more diplomats.
Kiwiblog observed at the time that this was a quirk of MMP.
Ministers from parties not in Government can demand any amount of extra money from the Finance Minister, with the implicit threat of walking if they do not get it. This is no special skill.
We saw similiar last budget with a huge increase in funding for NZ Aid. But is an increase in quantity the same as an increase in quality? Well the Auditor-General reported that there were significant problems with how NZ Aid accounted in the field for its funding.
Among others, the funding secured by Peters funded new diplomatic posts in Sweden and Brisbane and a 50 per cent increase MFAT staff overseas, as well as boosting home-base staffing.
So now what’s doing?
Oh, yes. The embassy in Stockholm is one of a number of posts slated for closure in the Government’s revamping of MFAT.
That’s what former foreign affairs minister Phil Goff reckons, at least, and he moreover said he understood from “government sources” the number of job cuts intended from these manoeuvres was 260.
The Herald understands a number of overseas posts will be closed, a prospect acknowledged by Foreign Minister Murray McCully last year. Mr Goff said yesterday several sources had told him the embassy in Stockholm would be one of them.
The Embassy in Stockholm opened for business on 7 July 2008, becoming New Zealand’s 50th overseas post.
It was the first of three new overseas posts announced in the 2008 Budget.
Dunno if a helluva lot has been achieved by Peters’ extra spending in Sweden.
Mind you, the embassy did sound an alert to warn New Zealanders in Sweden of the risk of tick-borne encephalitis in spring/summer/autumn.
The incidence has been rising steadily since the mid-1980s. 190 cases were reported in 2007 (62% of cases were recorded in the Stockholm counties). Sporadic cases occur in the rest of Sweden annually. Vaccination is recommended
But Sweden is not a giant among our trade partners.
According to the best data Mrs Grumble could dig up a in a hurry, bilateral trade in 2009 was significantly to Sweden’s advantage.
New Zealand’s exports to Sweden (fob) were NZ$73.3 million, with the main items being sheep meat, venison, wine and fish fillets. Swedish exports to New Zealand totalled NZ$377.9 million, with medicaments, cars and heavy vehicles comprising the bulk of products.
What was the value of those exports again?
Oh, yes: $73.3 million.
If Mrs Grumble has done the sums correctly, that’s around 0.2% of NZ’s total exports that year of around $40 billion.
Closing the embassy might hurt that export performance. But the NZ economy won’t falter as a consequence.