Former National Trade Minister Tim Groser’s return from the New Zealand Embassy in Washington raises wider questions about one of the Government’s most prestigious jobs.
The State Services Commission is advertising for a Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Applications close this week.
Grosert would not be a candidate for that.
His appointment to Washington was a political one, and unusually a change of Government has seen him allowed to serve out his full three-year contract.
It can not have been a comfortable relationship, with Labour in opposition unhappy with the way Groser seemed to ignore their requests for a provision to allow New Zealand to ban overseas urban property sales when he was negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership.
However last night on TVOne’s “Q+A” the US Ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, said he talked frequently with Groser when asked about the level of of the relaitonship between New Zealand and the US.
But what may happen now is that Groser’s replacement is one of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s most senior staff members who may have been considered to have missed out on the top job.
POLITIK understands there are several likely internal contenders.
The current deputy CEO, Bede Corry, who has a considerable high level; diplomatic and public service management background would seem a natural for the job.
Another with a similar background to Corry is Chris Seed, the current High Commissioner to Australia.
But both have traditional MFAT backgrounds, and the State Services Commissioner and the new Government may be looking for something more.
The fact that in the recent Government CEO reshuffle no woman was appointed did not go unnoticed in the Beehive.
And the Minister, Winston Peters, has made much of his desire for the Ministry to prioritise our relationship with the Pacific.
MFAT has a number of senior women but all are relatively young and whether it would be considered they were ready for the top job might be a question.
There is also the Deputy Secretary, Trade and Economic, Vangelis Vitalis, who certainly demonstrated at the recent Otago Foreign Policy School that he has ideas on how the Ministry might refresh itself and make itself more relevant.
And then there is one of the Ministry’s international exports, Crawford Falconer, currently on a consultancy heading up the British team preparing to negotiate trade agreements after Brexit.
He is a former Ambassador to the WTO.
However, the likelihood the next appointment may be the Ministry’s first female CEO to be female is considered to be high.
One name being suggested is the current Director of the SIS and former Cabinet Secretary, Rebecca Kitteridge.
She is a former Cabinet Secretary but also worked in the MFAT legal section on South Pacific constitutional issues.
She said in an interview earlier this year that she was about to become a diplomat when she was lured back to the Cabinet office in the Beehive.
She also won the Women of Influence Public Policy Award last year.
On paper, she might tick all of the boxes.
That leaves the replacement for Groser in Washington which Foreign Minister Winston Peters has indicated should be a career diplomat.
That might well be either Corry or Seed if they missed out on the top job.
It is uncommon (but not altogether unusual) for Washington be a career appointment
The every first Ambassador was Walter Nash during the Second World War. He continued to serve as Finance Minister while he was there.
Among the politicians who have been, Ambassador are Bill Rowling, Mike Moore, Jim Bolger and Groser though Groser’s background was more complex.
He was a high-flying career diplomat before he became an MP and had been Ambassador to Indonesia and like Falconer, to the WTO.
The State Services Commission is also currently appointing a Chief Executive for the Department of Corrections and for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
These appointments follow on five CEO appointments that were made in June. All were male which suggests that the most senior of the current round, MFAT, would be likely to go to a woman.