Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Changing Face of New Zealand Diplomacy: Michael Green Reflects on Changes That Have Occurred in the Foreign Service during the Course of His Career

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Changing Face of New Zealand Diplomacy: Michael Green Reflects on Changes That Have Occurred in the Foreign Service during the Course of His Career

Article excerpt

The Department of External Affairs I joined in January 1970 was small--a great deal smaller than today--but had inter-agency clout beyond its size because the permanent head was concurrently head of the Prime Minister's Department, an advantage it lost in 1975 when a separate department was created to support the Prime Minister.

It was dominated by pakeha males. Women in my intake were appointed a grade lower than men, regardless of qualifications; the States Services Commission prescribed what they could wear to work; and those marrying were expected to resign. My cohort included the first female officer to be posted overseas with a dependant spouse and the first to have a child while on a posting. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade today has more women than men; routinely posts married women with families; and accepts that they will take time out occasionally, including while on posting, to have children. These changes reflect social trends in New Zealand over the past forty years. In the same way, the ethnic mixture of ministry staff today is more akin to that in society at large, although minorities--unlike women--are not yet represented in the senior management. And the growing reliance on Maori culture in state ceremonies and protocol is well embedded in ministry practice. New Zealand's diplomats represent the multicultural society they come from and today's ministry is a more grounded and vibrant organisation than the one I joined.

Although my orientation course introduced us neophytes to other departments, I had little to do with any of them professionally in my early years. External Affairs in 1970 gave priority to defence and security, to certain UN issues, and to relations with Pacific states emerging from decolonisation. Technical assistance, infrastructure projects, and scholarships dominated what passed for an aid programme. Trade and economic matters were the preserve of a small and fairly specialised group in the ministry who conducted much of their work through interdepartmental committees to which I was never exposed and who were not based in Parliament Buildings with other policy divisions. Even before the public sector restructuring of the 1980s delivered responsibility for trade policy to the ministry, economic and trade matters had assumed greater prominence in its work, putting flesh around that Muldoonism about New Zealand's foreign policy being trade. The public sector reforms of the 1980s saw economic and trade work mainstreamed, so that it now forms a significant part of every geographical division's core responsibility. Official development assistance, delivered by NZAID, is now on an accelerating growth path, has been professionalised, and in some partner countries overshadows all other aspects of the bilateral relationship.

Staffing changes

These shifts have been reflected in the staffing of overseas posts. But changes there have gone beyond what expansion of numbers and greater specialisation alone would justify. Current staffing patterns reflect the steady blurring of the line between domestic and external issues that has occurred in recent decades. There was always a domestic element to diplomatic work but it used to seem that clear demarcations existed. Today most government agencies routinely engage with their counterparts in other countries. This means that much greater engagement between MFAT and other agencies is inescapable in formulating policy positions and advancing New Zealand interests off-shore.

It also means that more departments than ever before are represented in our diplomatic missions; in fact, about half of total seconded staff at posts are not from MFAT. Without attempting a full enumeration, they include Customs, Police, New Zealand Defence Force, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Research Science and Technology, Education, Ministry of Economic Development, Immigration, Treasury and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. …

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