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Published online Canberra Times: Opinion

The Lowy Institute study Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit, Reinvesting in Our Instruments of International Policy shines a light into some of the darker recesses of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is long overdue and the Government would do well to take its recommendations seriously.

It was a study undertaken by the Lowy Institute and chaired by Allan Gyngell, a former diplomat and now executive director of the Lowy Institute. The report is long-winded but does make some valid points. Australia does need to enhance its consular service, and giving it a separate director is a good idea.

In my opinion consular staff require particular and continual training. They need specific language training for the country they are to serve in, and they (and their spouse) need access to counselling on a regular, as needed, basis. All consular duties are difficult but they receive recognition only at a time of crisis. The role of consular officers needs enhanced recognition and perhaps a pay loading in particularly difficult posts, over and above hardship post allowances.

Public diplomacy is a waste of time and money. It is impossible to spin away nasty facts such as children in detention, the Northern Territory intervention, Aboriginal health, the Government’s failure to act on climate change and the Hanif affair.

For better or worse and it has been for worse foreign ministries are stuck with the stupidities of the government of the day. Save money, put it into language training.

The report makes a strong point about the inadequacy of language training for diplomatic officers. All DFAT officers should speak at least one foreign language. It is a disgrace when an agency such as the Australian Federal Police has more money for language training than DFAT.

Australia has too many posts in Europe and not enough in our areas of primary interest and responsibility. The report identifies these glaring weaknesses and, in view of the deteriorating international environment, they should be urgently.