Divided DFAT lives with coup fear

Another spat is marring the unhappy marriage of the Foreign Affairs and overseas aid departments in Canberra with CPSU union delegates at each other’s throats in an escalating left versus right turf war.

Left-leaning young turks from AusAID, the department swallowed up by DFAT in one of the first acts of the Abbott Government last year, are accused of attempting to use their greater numbers  for an “undemocratic” takeover of the merged department’s union representation.

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The “less experienced” AusAID staffers are trying to stage a coup against DFAT union stalwart Christopher Lang, it is alleged, and senior CPSU figures are trying to broker a peace between the two factions.

The older, more conservative DFAT union delegates accuse their younger former AusAID counterparts of “juvenile, ALP party political bickering,” in a document circulated around the Foreign Affairs delegates.

Some DFAT veterans fear their traditionally conservative union branch will have a radical political agenda imposed by AusAID left-wingers and are now refusing to meet in an integrated workplace body.


The merger between the two departments has been beset by cultural differences and one memorable act of petty spite since it was announced, as part of the Abbott Government’s cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget.

A clear north-south divide has emerged in the new department with former AusAID staffers referring to their CBD workplace as DFAT Civic in an effort to distinguish themselves from long serving Foreign Affairs officials, based in Barton.

DFAT regulars, meanwhile have shown no enthusiasm for “integration” if it takes them north of Lake Burley Griffin and away from the decision-making nerve centre of the RG Casey Building.

The DFAT union delegates have sent a blunt warning to their AusAID counterparts that internecine strife at this “dangerous and perilous time” will not be tolerated and trying to head off any move against Mr Lang, a 40-year CPSU veteran.

“We will not participate in such a shame for obvious reasons,” the DFAT delegates warned.

“We do not propose to engage in juvenile ALP party political bickering that can only harm the CPSU in DFAT.

“DFAT section delegates will now meet separately as a workplace organizing group in Barton.”

The Foreign Affairs officials say they have secured the backing of the Barton rank-and-file from their policy to “disengage” from any further integration  with their AusAID colleagues until “trust can be restored”.

“We have consulted with our members who agree with us that is our duty as their elected representatives to remain focused on their interests during this difficult and dangerous time,” the DFAT delegates wrote.

The union’s ruling Executive Council has voted to create one section in the merged department, with one section secretary, a move the DFAT forces are likely to resist.

An official union spokesman said that the row had nothing to do with party politics.

“All members in the newly amalgamated DFAT and AusAID areas will get the opportunity to vote on who represents them within the union,” the spokesman said.

“The notion this has something to do with party politics has not been raised with any CPSU representative before yesterday’s events and it’s just plain wrong.


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