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AusAID staff complain of machine gun miming amid DFAT takeover

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese.

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.

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. 

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."

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au.

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," 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."

63 comments

  • You can bet the AusAID staff will be dealt with unfairly. The arrogance of DFAT staff knows no bounds, never has never will. This will be the first of many travesties under this government.

    Commenter
    Irene
    Date and time
    November 01, 2013, 12:09PM
    • Since when have any mergers been nice and lovely, where peoples feelings are paramount? AA tripled in size, and is in the current Govs opinion spending too much, which as the elected gov has decided to change.

      Commenter
      Some Whine
      Date and time
      November 01, 2013, 1:48PM
    • Travesty is what Mr Abbott and his merry men (and I choose my term advisedly) do best. Blow hard with no go except of course cut, cut, cut and cut to the bone!

      Commenter
      Clive
      Location
      Manly West
      Date and time
      November 02, 2013, 4:19PM
  • Poor widdle public servants standing around doing nothing whille the nasty man pretends that their cozy little number is up.
    Well it is, and the wasting of taxpayer dollars within AUSAID will now now over.

    Commenter
    Tropcial
    Date and time
    November 01, 2013, 12:28PM
    • How exactly is AUSAID wasting money? Or is improving the living standards of our poor neighbours not ultimately in our national interest?

      Commenter
      Tpyo
      Date and time
      November 01, 2013, 1:02PM
    • #Tropical# One could also say:
      Poor widdle auto workers building cars at an over inflated price while getting government handouts to keep them afloat.
      The wasting of taxpayer dollars within Oz auro manufacturers will soon be over.
      Now that seems to hurt a lot more because it's about industry and not public servants. Public servants are just the same as others - they have bills, mortgages, families and throught they had a career.
      Stop and think before you add your sarcasm, it's not needed.

      Commenter
      Dee2
      Date and time
      November 01, 2013, 1:16PM
  • Robin Davies i believe is somewhat wrong in his comments "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."

    DFAT is the obvious machine to drive that purpose. (hint: Foreign Affairs and Trade)

    Go to APSJOBS and do a search on depts/agencies and you will see there is many more opportunities to merge agencies back into business units within a department. This will greatly reduce duplication and thus make them more cost effective.

    As for imaginary machine guns it could have been worse, DFAT staff could have lobbed pretend tactical nuclear grenades.

    Ausaid staffs greatest enemy at the moment will be their own bosses, they will be the ones securing their positions first.

    Commenter
    stoney
    Date and time
    November 01, 2013, 12:31PM
    • So that's how Varghese manages DFAT - through intimidation.

      I am very surprised that Tony Abbott has kept the Gillard loyalist Peter Varghese in this position. Other Gillard loyalists have been told to move on.

      And that pretender assassin from DFAT needs to be laid off. Why should the taxpayers pay for that idiot's wages!

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 01, 2013, 12:51PM
      • *Sigh*. Another day, another article on the APS, another spiteful and hateful comment from Sharron.

        As constant as gravity....

        Commenter
        That Guy
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 01, 2013, 1:18PM
      • Guy, I find it interesting that you condone the use of intimidation against public servants, sounds like you use the same techniques whether you are a public servant or not.

        Now tell me Guy, what makes you think that other people don't have the right to say what they think? What makes you think you are so special?

        By the way, we do have too many public servants and half of them need to go.

        Commenter
        Sharron
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 01, 2013, 1:30PM

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