Cheering news for Jackie Blue – two women are among the prospects to head MFAT

Back in June,  a  post  in Point of Order quoted  a  range of  comments on a  reshuffle  of five  CEOs across the  public service by State Services  Commissioner  Peter  Hughes, who  said he wanted  to maintain  momentum in  key roles  and portfolios.

Among the comments, Equal Employment  Opportunities   Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue observed that the appointments were all male and criticised  the process  as  unfair  to  top  women in  the public  service.

So there will be keen interest, not least from that quarter, in the competition  for  the  top  job at the Ministry of  Foreign Affairs  &  Trade.  Its current CEO, Dr Brook Barrington, was one of the five involved in the June reshuffle and  is designated  to take over from Andrew  Kibblewhite  as  CEO  of the  Department of  the Prime Minister and Cabinet  from  February 1.

Some might think Bede Corry, who has been  deputy  secretary of  MFAT  since  November  2015,   would be a  shoo-in.  Corry returned to  MFAT from  the  Ministry of Defence,  where  he  was deputy  secretary  policy and planning  from  2012  to  2014.  He  also  has served  as  Ambassador  to Thailand, and  earlier  as  Counsellor  in  the  Washington  embassy.

Corry  is  familiar   with how  the Beehive works  after  a term  as   private secretary  in  the office of the  Foreign Affairs  Minister.

Others   would   argue that Chris  Seed,  who has had  an  equally  distinguished  career,  most recently as  High Commissioner in  Canberra,  has the mana and  experience to put  MFAT back   in  its former  pre-eminent  role  in the  state sector.

But – no  wild  card this – a  strong bid  could be  coming  from  Rebecca  Kitteridge,  director-general   of the  NZ Security  Intelligence Service  since   2014,  and  before that  Secretary of  Cabinet for  six years.

Earlier  she  had  experience in  MFAT  and also in the private sector.  She has the  proven  administrative   skills   to   restore  the  élan  that used to be  enjoyed by  MFAT before the  ill-fated  reforms  executed  by  John  Allen in the term of the  National  government.

Kitteridge  may not   be the only  female  candidate  with strong claims.  Bernadette  Cavanagh, deputy  secretary, multilateral  and legal  affairs group, at MFAT  since   2017 has had postings in  Moscow, New York and as  High Commissioner  in Singapore.  She returned  to  NZ  in 2015 to be  head of  the UN and Commonwealth division  during  NZ’s term  as a  member of the  UN Security Council, where her work was  said to be outstanding.

Another  candidate  with impressive  credentials is  Tony Lynch, a deputy  secretary of  Defence since 2014. Earlier in his career Lynch had postings in  Geneva, Jakarta and Canberra  and  as  Ambassador  in Thailand.  He  also served as  foreign affairs advisor  for the  then PM John Key.

Despite  the  high  ratings  of each  of these  candidates, there  may be others  in the running  who  could  make the short list.

A  vital  factor  in the final  decision   might encompass an assessment  of how the new chief  will  interact  with the  Minister of  Foreign  Affairs,  Winston Peters,   who  will be  determined  to ensure the impressive effort he has made to  restore the  ministry’s  reputation  at the apex of the  public service   is consolidated.


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