At an event tonight I asked New Zealand’s foreign minister Hon. Murray McCully when his ministry is going to embrace social media technology, when’s he going to get on Twitter? The US, UK, Australia and other countries are on board but New Zealand is conspicuously absent.

Don’t worry, this was after I’d asked a suitably serious question about his far-reaching restructuring of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Trade (MFAT) including its impact on New Zealand’s work in disarmament and human rights. That answer follows, but first, when he’s going to get with the rest of the world and start tweeting?

Never it would seem. McCully acknowledged that the ministry hasn’t exactly pioneered the use of new technology, but he wants it to use technology in a way that will “take us forward.” That doesn’t, however, include the use of social media such as Facebook or Twitter, because these tools are “hugely risky in our line of business.”  McCully explained that he gave up blogging when he became foreign minister as it was “incompatible with the sort of responsibilities that go with this role.” In his view, “in an environment that demands professionalism and care, these things [social media] need to be looked at very carefully.”

McCully’s speech today was billed as a major foreign policy address. There was little in the way of new policy, but plenty on how the government intends to continue to shake up New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He stressed that “trade and economic opportunities” are at the “forefront” of the government’s thinking on the future shape of the Ministry.

According to McCully, missions will be closed “where we don’t need them” and the ministry will be “modernized” into “a leaner, more adaptable organisation.” Overseas postings will see “fewer seconded staff” and more local staff. A consular new post in Abu Dhabi was cited as an example; it consists of a seconded ministry staffer as ambassador, supported by “locally engaged” support staff. Other models to be pursued include sharing diplomatic “space” and sub-letting from friends such as Australia and the UK.

So New Zealand will establish new diplomatic missions, but with a “dramatic difference in size and configuration.” Africa and Guam were mentioned as potential locations for new diplomatic missions.

Hi-level diplomatic positions will no longer be the realm of career diplomats, but “open” recruitment will enable the ministry to “test the market” and “pick the best person for the job.” The proposal came across as hollow given McCully’s recent appointments of former politicians to diplomatic postings, such as Jim McLay to New York, Mike Moore to Washington DC, Mark Blumsky to Cook Islands, John Carter to the Cook Islands.

According to McCully, the proposed changes will have “profound implications” for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as it is currently known. I asked him if the restructuring would have any impact on New Zealand’s human rights and disarmament work including its representation in Geneva, New York and other traditional diplomatic hubs.

McCully said these missions and this work won’t be “untouched,” but ”we understand the importance of playing a role in those places and we’ll continue to allocate the sort of resources that New Zealand should.”