Speculation builds on Brook Barrington’s successor to take charge at MFAT

Cabinet’s appointments committee meets shortly for the last time this year and one of its principal agenda items will be finding a new CEO for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade to replace Brook Barrington, who will take over as head of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet in February.

There has been some interesting twists to the process. As with all CEO appointments, it is run by the State Services Commission which engages a specialist recruiting firm. However, Commissioner Peter Hughes has faced down criticism from within the public service and beyond after he used a little-known clause of the legislation when he despatched current DPMC CEO Andrew Kibblewhite to Justice and moved Justice CEO Andrew Bridgman to Ministry of Defence and Barrington to DPMC.

This was branded “jobs for the boys” and enraged women on all sides of the system. It also appeared to confirm what critics suspect as a sense of entitlement by some CEOs.

The new MFAT CEO will face a range of challenges. While Barrington repaired much of the damage done by his predecessor, the ministry remains chronically short of experienced diplomats and a work force where around 45% have had five or fewer years of service. Internal structural issues remain.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters is determined to rebuild a career service and available indications suggest he is likely to prefer an inside appointment.

Front runners include Bede Corry, current Deputy CEO, and Chris Seed, who is about to return from a noteworthy span as High Commissioner in Canberra.

Seed, a cricket buff, would be regarded as the quintessential safe pair of hands, especially as the recently adopted strategic and foreign policy objectives cite Australia and the US as NZ’s principal partners.

Both Corry and Seed are experienced in managing large onshore/offshore teams, a requirement which might rule out candidates such as SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge whose experience is limited, in management terms, to the much smaller SIS and before that the Cabinet office.

There are capable senior women diplomats available – Bernadette Cavanagh, currently deputy secretary multilateral and legal affairs group, and Paula Wilson, PM Jacinda Ardern’s foreign policy adviser – but both are considered likely prospects next time round given their relative youth in terms of appointment.

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