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AusAID staff complain of machine gun miming amid DFAT takeover

Friday's "hostile takeover" of AusAID by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was never expected to go smoothly but nobody thought DFAT staff might want their new colleagues dead.

Some AusAID workers have complained that they saw a DFAT officer stand on a first-floor balcony of his department's RG Casey building during a joint briefing last Thursday, pretending to fire a machine gun into the massed AusAID ranks as they stood in the ground-floor foyer below.

And a foreign aid veteran has gone public, saying many of the scrapped agency's workers think their new DFAT colleagues are "quick-fixers, fast talkers and carpetbaggers", who work in a department that is "mercenary, transactional and short-termist".

DFAT bosses were tight-lipped when asked about the alleged machine gun incident.

"If any inappropriate behaviour occurred, it will be addressed," a spokesman said.


During the meeting, the AusAID staff who braved the hail of mock bullets from above also had to face the news from DFAT secretary Peter Varghese that job cuts in the new merged department were a certainty.

"We don't know what our share of that reduction is going to be but we know that we will have to deal with a reduction in staff," Mr Varghese said.

"Inevitably, as a result not just of integration but of all of those other factors that I spoke about, the big cuts in our aid budget, the efficiency dividend, the audit commission, the 12,000 job losses across the public service, we will face job losses in the integrated department.

"I don't think on July 1, 2014 DFAT will have the same numbers as it has on November 1."

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Former AusAID veteran Robin Davies marked Friday's demise of the agency after 40 years with a broadside on the Australian National University's foreign aid blog, describing the takeover as an "affront" to many staffers.

It is inevitably experienced as an affront, a personal loss, to the people who have invested their working lives, or their hopes for a working life, in the organisation.

"It is inevitably experienced as an affront, a personal loss, to the people who have invested their working lives, or their hopes for a working life, in the organisation," the academic wrote.

"The affront might have been lessened if there were a perception that this unheralded merger were not in reality a hostile takeover, if DFAT as agent were thought to be acting only in line with the objectives of the government as principal, and if the objectives of the merger had been convincingly stated."

The academic painted an uncompromising picture of the regard many AusAID staff held for their new DFAT colleagues.

"AusAID staff will naturally define themselves in opposition to quick-fixers, fast talkers and carpetbaggers," Mr Davies wrote.

"Just as there is in DFAT a stereotype of AusAID, so there is in AusAID a stereotype of DFAT - as an organisation that is mercenary, transactional, short-termist and, most problematically, often lacking a realistic understanding of how its own ends might best be served by the aid program.

"But, as it is, there is a sense that one organisation is being consumed by another whose objectives might not exactly coincide with those of the government.

"The government wants a focused, high-quality aid program that strengthens Australia's bilateral relationships. It can't be easy for anybody inside AusAID to see how its disintegration could serve that end."


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