Murray McCully’s meddling at MFAT – might it bring about his ministerial demise?


It looks like your hard-working MP will have to wait to see if his formidable talents are appropriately recognised by The Boss with a long-overdue promotion.

That howz-yer-father about the ACC and the Pullar woman culminated in Nick Smith’s resignation from his ministerial portfolios.

Great (although Alf is not publicly displaying his approval).

Trouble is, Nick’s ministerial jobs have been given to others, at least for now.

An hour or so’s drive up the road from here, Tukituki MP and cabinet minister Craig Foss has grabbed one of the opportunities Alf hoped would come his way.

He became acting minister of Climate Change Issues.

Gerry Brownlee was given Smith’s Local Government portfolio and Chris Finlayson took Environment.

Obviously all is not yet lost. A cabinet reshuffle, albeit minor, is on the cards.

But hey. Alf sees another opportunity.

It’s just a matter of time – surely – before The Boss recognises Murray McCully for what he is.

And what is he?

A meddler who blames others for his follies when the meddling has embarrassing consequences.

Actually, Alf is apt to be a dab hand at playing the same game. But he does it more subtly, and subtlety is – or should be – a positive attribute in Foreign Affairs.

McCully is much more blatant.

As a consequence (a report at Stuff is our authority on this) –

Pressure is mounting on Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive John Allen as the Government orders him to scale back his controversial cost-cutting proposals.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully yesterday wrote to Mr Allen telling him to revise his plans to slash $25 million.

Until now, Alf had the strong impression Murray had no problem with those plans.

But when the shit hits the fan –

Well, Alf agrees with Murray on this: the smart thing to do is make sure it spatters somebody else.

It’s good news for MFAT staffers, of course.

Almost 136 locally employed overseas staff are likely to keep their jobs as a proposal to outsource jobs to contractors is dumped.

Allowances to overseas staff will remain and salary cuts are unlikely. The burden will now fall on heads of mission – especially those in Europe – to make savings.

Senior diplomats will be asked to return to Wellington next month – at a cost of $200,000 – and told to take more responsibility for their budgets.

In the letter Mr McCully said outposts in China, South-East Asia, India and the Middle East should keep their staff and their allocations.

Murray obviously has gone on to the offensive, taking a swipe at the ministry over its failure to cut back office costs “that are seriously excessive”.

And here’s a nice touch. In the letter he offers his support to Mr Allen.

But Labour foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff believes Mr McCully is trying to make Mr Allen a scapegoat.

Quizzing Mr McCully in Parliament yesterday he said: “Is the minister now telling the House that it is all Mr Allen’s fault, and that, in fact, Mr Allen did not consult with him closely at every step of the way?”

Mr McCully replied: “I have made it very clear that the proposal circulated to ministry staff comes from ministry management, and not from me.”

Dunno what Murray knows about the circular.

But Alf recalls him braying not so long ago about closing some overseas missions and having fewer jobs filled by secondment from Wellington, and hiring local people instead.

Mr McCully did not spell out what positions might be affected but embassies often second Kiwis for driving and administrative jobs. Some of those positions include accommodation packages.

Mr McCully said that, with a million New Zealanders around the world, it should be possible “in most places to engage talented Kiwis for specific roles without the substantial extra cost of seconding ministry people from Wellington”.

And Alf does not recall McCully taking issue with the NZ Herald when it said:

Murray McCully has developed a certain reputation for causing upset in his great experiment to reform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It appears not to bother him. The possibility he may offend the senior diplomats or be accused of being a meddling minister is no deterrent.

Actually, he wore that lot as a badge of honour.

So Alf will keep an opportunistic eye out.

As a loyal back-bencher, of course, on all occasions he will publicly declare Murray to be a splendid bloke.

But just quietly, behind the scenes, if Murray stumbles Alf will not be there to stop his fall being a damaging one.

He rather fancies dashing around the world doing good things for the country’s external relations as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And so much shit seems to splatter when Murray is around that he is bound to slip on some one day.

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