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Serious problems remain within foreign affairs and trade: Hill



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MEDIA RELEASE SENATOR ROBERT HILL LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS Thursday, December 17

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SERIOUS PWORT.KMS REMAIN WTTHTH FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRAnEĀ» HTT.T.

The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Robert Hill, today said a number of problems remained within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), despite the completion of an inquiry into its operations.

Senator Hill made his comments after the tabling of a Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration report into the management and operations of DFAT.

He said the inquiry followed serious allegations by the self- styled "Officers' Revolutionary Council", industrial action in overseas posts, a spate of damaging leaks and clear morale problems in the Department.

"The Committee's report acquits DFAT of serious allegations of fraud and mismanagement made by 'whistleblowers'," Senator Hill said.

"However, a number of serious problems within DFAT remain unresolved.

"On the issue of leaks, DFAT has been unable to find the source of a single leak among the many serious leaks of sensitive

documents which have occurred since 1990.

"Many of these leaks have been highly damaging to Australia's relations with other countries, particularly some in our region.

"DFAT said it had reviewed and improved security procedures, but leaks continued even during the course of the Committee's inquiry.

"Clearly, security arrangements are inadequate.

"The Minister, who once said about leaks that 'the usual suspects will be rounded up, with the usual results', should treat the issue much more seriously.

"On the subject of morale, all three major organisations

representing DFAT staff and families told the inquiry that there were morale problems and traced them to DFAT management.

"DFAT needs to address two matters which are at the root of the continuing morale problem within the Department: conditions of service issues, and personnel management issues relating to recruitment, promotion and personnel development.

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"The Department's management shortcomings were highlighted in the inquiry by DFAT's handling of the former Ambassador to Ireland, Brian Burke's, breach of rules covering the purchase of duty-free car s .

"The Department failed seriously in its security role in relation to the April attack on the Iranian Embassy, which occurred during the inquiry and resulted in responsibilities being transferred to the Attorney-General's Department.

"There is obviously still serious concern among DFAT staff about their career prospects.

"The skills needed in DFAT for a professional foreign service, including trade, are not being properly recognised in the promotion process.

"Management is failing to make clear the basis on which officers are promoted and sent on postings.

"DFAT management needs also to spell out how it plans to develop the specialist trade and language skills needed to cope with the increasingly demanding diplomatic effort in our region.

"The current review of the Public Affairs Division of DFAT, which was criticised by the Committee, illustrates continuing poor personnel management practices within DFAT.

"Deficiencies in security and management and low morale in the Department reflect the attitude of a Minister who has been more interested in grand initiatives and personal promotion than personnel and management concerns.

"He has in this regard failed in his Ministerial and Departmental responsibilities."

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Enquiries: Senator Hill and Mark Batistich on (06) 277 3170