BY ILYA GRIDNEFF
AAP - HUNDREDS OF CANBERRA bureaucrats have avoided pay cuts which hit Australian aid advisers working in places like PNG and the Solomons.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has described the oversight as "unacceptable", but his office could not explain why public servants were omitted from a recent review of adviser positions in Australia's aid programs.
Mr Rudd announced major reforms to Australia's $4.3 billion aid program last month by cutting 257 of the 952 technical adviser positions, a quarter of all advisers, to be phased out within two years across 20 country programs.
The reforms were in response to the Joint Adviser Review, which was completed in February.
Mr Rudd also announced adviser salaries are to be slashed by 25 percent after media reports highlighted some advisers cost taxpayers more than $500,000 a year.
But the review's new pay framework "does not apply to Australian government officials" who also receive bonuses as advisers working abroad, the review document said.
When AAP raised this matter, Mr Rudd's spokeswoman said the government "is about to announce a review of the pay and conditions offered to government employees engaged overseas as Australian aid advisers".
But neither AusAID nor Mr Rudd's office could explain why public servants were omitted from the initial review, AusAID's first since 1996.
According to AusAID, as part of Australia's $457 million annual aid to PNG, the Strongim Gavman Program (SGP) expenditure totalled $29.3 million last year and employed 44 Australian officials to support the PNG government in areas such as treasury or customs.
This puts the cost of each adviser to the Australian taxpayer at $665,909 per year.
Similar costs are involved when Canberra officials are deployed to other posts like East Timor, Indonesia or the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) where bureaucrats receive various extras for working overseas.
In a letter obtained by AAP, stamped February 22, Mr Rudd wrote to AusAID Director General Peter Baxter stating the pay oversight was "unacceptable and cannot be justified under a value for money criteria".
"I am concerned that the criteria of efficiency and effectiveness (of the review) are not being fully applied ... to programs such as RAMSI and SGP."
Mr Rudd also said in the letter there was no reason why such a large pay disparity existed between public servants working abroad to those in Australia.
The second review should be completed by September, Mr Rudd's spokeswoman said.
"The review will be conducted by AusAID and looks at positions in which public servants from 11 agencies are deployed overseas," she said.
AusAID is set to become the fifth largest government expenditure as Australia's aid budget doubles from $4.3 billion in 2010 to $8.6 billion by 2015/16.
Ilya Gridneff will soon be leaving PNG after distinguished service as the Australian Associated Press correspondent. PNG Attitude thanks him for his fearless reporting, and for his friendship, and wishes him well