Overall level of diplomatic resourcing
DFAT resourcing has not changed significantly in real terms over the last two decades. Chart 10.4.1 shows DFAT appropriations in nominal and real (CPI) terms.
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, various years.
While this is the most direct way of showing resourcing, it is worth noting that:
- the cost of producing passports, a significant non-discretionary part of DFAT's expenditure, has grown strongly over the period; while
- the Australian dollar appreciated from around US$0.76 in 1995-96 to US$1.03 in 2012-13. About a quarter of DFAT's annual departmental expenditure is in foreign currencies.
Some issues that have complicated DFAT's management within this budget include:
- one-off changes to the efficiency dividend which affect DFAT disproportionately as most of its funding is departmental;
- specific savings demands to address other budget priorities such as the $45.5 million saving applied to the portfolio in the 2010-11 MYEFO; and>
- finding offsets for capital expenditure such as new diplomatic missions and IT systems.
DFAT's staffing level overall is lower than 1996 levels. Like other agencies, DFAT staffing was reduced significantly in the late 1990s. However, staffing levels have been trending upward since 2003-04 and are now nearly back at the level they were in the mid 1990s (see Chart 10.4.2).
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Annual Report, various issues. A-based staff are engaged under the Public Service Act 1999. This excludes locally engaged staff.
Other relevant factors to note are:
- Much of the decline in overseas staffing was in the APS grades (junior staff), while there has been corresponding growth in the Executive Level or EL grades (middle manager) – presumably reflecting a more capable workforce (see Chart 10.4.3). A similar trend has been seen across the public service more generally.
- There has been significant growth in overseas staff across agencies. Broadly, DFAT staff (excluding AusAID) make up about half the people posted overseas. Specialist personnel from other agencies thus provide engagement on security, economic and other issues that would otherwise be performed by DFAT staff.
- The Lowy Institute (2009) noted that DFAT has proportionately fewer staff posted overseas than some comparable countries and recommended that there be a goal of raising the proportion of DFAT's A-based staff (excluding passports staff) posted overseas to 40 per cent of the total. While the proportion has been declining, the target would not have been achieved at any point over the last two decades.
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Annual Report, various issues.
While DFAT has fewer overseas missions than many G20 states (Chart 10.4.4), it is less clear that this observation has much significance in addressing Australia's international objectives.
- DFAT has an embassy with all the major powers and (with a couple of exceptions) the countries of the Pacific; and East, South and Southeast Asia. DFAT has a presence in countries that produce 93 per cent of the world's GDP.
- Other G20 countries tend to have significantly more consulates than Australia. The significance of this is not clear. It appears that the Australian total does not include consulates headed by an honorary consul. It is not clear whether the overseas totals include honorary consuls. It should also be noted that Australia gains greater effective reach overseas through its consular sharing agreement with Canada.
- This approach is a simplistic one, which equates the number of posts with outcomes.
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into Australia's Overseas Representation, 2011
While increasing numbers of Australians are travelling – the numbers have doubled over a decade – the data provided by DFAT in their annual reports does not show a corresponding increase in demand for consular services (see Chart 10.4.5).
While demand for consular services is volatile, with the periodic natural disaster or political crisis adding to pressure in particular years, DFAT usually manages crises by reallocating people internally to focus on consular issues in the affected country.