Now that Mfat is getting an organisational tummy tuck, what will we finish up with?

So our foreign service will be reduced to this.


There’s lots of angst and apprehension on Wellington’s Lambton Quay after the unveiling of plans to close embassies, lay off hundreds of staff and outsource consular hotlines for distressed New Zealanders overseas.

The Herald describes this overhaul today as part of a proposed radical overhaul of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat).

And a further round of job cuts is looming, on top of yesterday’s confirmation that the axe is hovering over 305 jobs, including diplomatic and policy positions.

Mfat chief executive John Allen announced proposed changes that would see 169 ministry staff culled in New Zealand and overseas, as well as 136 locally-engaged staff.

That means the loss of 21 per cent of the ministry’s 1421 staff, in one of several changes that Mr Allen said would transform the ministry into a flexible organisation with improved expertise.

It’s great to see the Herald picking up on the PR jargon: it says following these “reforms”, further jobs were likely to be “culled” in the “human resources”, information technology and property-management areas.

“In the HR space, with the elimination of rotation [of staff] … we have 12 or 13 people in place to support that rotation, and obviously we won’t need all those people in a new environment,” Mr Allen said.

The Herald also tells its readers these changes are part of a broader squeeze on the public service, as the Government seeks to create “a leaner and more efficient state sector”.

Yep, that’s it.

We get rid of a few hundred people and – shazam – we get more efficiency.

More effective?

Next question.

The Herald gives a neat summary –

* 305 jobs are likely to be cut in an overhaul of Mfat – 21 per cent of the 1421 staff.

* One of the proposals is a 24/7 consular phoneline as a first point of contact for New Zealanders overseas.

* About 600 staff will have to reapply for jobs.

* The changes would save $20m to $25m a year.

Just one thing.

When we take the fat out of Mfat what are we left with?

M.

Or water.

How so?

The letter M – Alf’s constituents will be fascinated to learn – is derived from the Phoenician Mem, via the Greek Mu (Μ, μ). And – guess what? – Alf’s research tells him Semitic Mem probably originally pictured water.

Mind you, taking the fat out of Mfat might also mean we are left with the fictional character in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series – a character called M who is Head of Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.

In recent years the character has been played in movies by Dame Judi Dench.

Pity they didn’t give the role to Lucy Lawless. It would be great to see her headed for the office each morning on Lambton Quay.

On second thoughts, maybe not. She has a strong greenie streak and has joined a bunch of Greenpeace stirrers in boarding a Shell oil-drilling ship berthed at the Port of Taranaki this morning.

Dame Judi wouldn’t give M a bad name with stunts of that sort.

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