by Kennedy Graham
Under the John Key Government, New Zealand has recast its reputational integrity, losing traditional hues of national colour to which the Prime Minister is congenitally blind.
This current Government has practised, to an art form, the statement of principles to govern the pursuit of stated objectives, in eloquent words of surpassing meaninglessness, whilst proceeding under cover and consciously to violate those principles in pursuit of the stated objectives.
It is a cheap way of conducting foreign policy, discounting everything to the mercantilist level, including certain aspects of a country’s foreign policy that are of intrinsic worth and which defy a quick price-take.
In 2012, Foreign Minister McCully solemnly delivered a high-sounding speech to the NZ Institute of International Affairs, about the NZ bid for the UN Security Council seat. This is what he said:
“Both the Prime Minister and I laid down two very clear conditions: we would not attempt to buy a seat on the Security Council, either by spending New Zealand taxpayers’ dollars or by changing New Zealand policy positions. It is very important that these conditions should be understood. … What I am saying, in essence, is that the Key Government has made it very clear that we will not campaign on our chequebook.”
In 2014, his Government brought out New York-based foreign diplomats to New Zealand, in connection with New Zealand’s UN bid. Where did they go? To Queenstown. What did they do? Among other things, they rode the jet-boats.
This is, of course, a time-honoured method of diplomatic discourse, easily recognisable and affectionately embraced in UN corridors and Manhattan cafés.
It has been reported that around 60 UN-based diplomats have been brought out to New Zealand, all-expenses paid travel, accommodated in the most expensive Kiwi resorts, and hosted at wine-tasters, with dinner at Govt. House.
Does the Green Party support New Zealand’s bid for Security Council membership? Yes.
Does the Green Party support some additional public expenditure to advance the bid? Yes, within reasonable limits, and on the basis of complete transparency.
Have those constraints been respected? No.
It is one thing for the Foreign Minister to visit various capitals and for the Government to send former NZ ambassadors there as well. It is an entirely different thing for the tourism-obsessed national leader(s) to mix knee-jerk scenic play with serious multilateral diplomacy.
Not exactly 100% pure. As he continues to beam out from White House lecterns, secure in his new-found friendships, John Key simply does not get it. He fails to get that true statecraft requires a political depth-of-field beyond mindlessly reciting prepared lines and uttering Letterman-style one-liners. When asked about the Queenstown escapades, the Prime Minister said this:
“In reality when people come to New Zealand, they get a chance to understand New Zealand and I suspect they’ll be a bit more likely to vote for us.”
So we asked, under the Official Information Act, for details of public expenditure on the Security Council bid.
Displaying all the transparency of 19th-century diplomacy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade declined to release the figures on the ground that doing so could “prejudice the international relations of New Zealand”.
Nice. This was the same day the Minister for Economic Development discussed in detail on Morning Report the possible extent of public funding for Team New Zealand for the next America’s Cup.
What we have here is an example of a government department keeping confidential details of tax-payer money on a subjective judgement that the country’s international relations might be prejudiced, with no details provided as to what specifically might be prejudiced, nor any indication of the criteria used for making the judgement.
This is the kind of arrogance we are becoming used to, with this Government.
MFAT’s judgement needs to be reviewed by the Ombudsman, under the provisions of the same Act.
It is not rocket-science to do an order-of-magnitude estimate of costs involved for the UNSC bid.
- Suppose the Minister diverted on 20 occasions over 36 months beyond his normal duties to visit a capital principally for the purpose of promoting the bid, at NZ$10,000 per separate visit. Travel & expenses = $200,000.
- Suppose four retried ambassadors were retained for 12 months to visit selected capitals on 12 occasions each for 2 weeks each time. Travel & expenses = $150,000 per visit = $600,000 total. Plus retainers of $50,000 per person = $200,000. Total costs = $800,000.
- Suppose 60 foreign diplomats visit New Zealand for 1 week for earnest briefings and some scenic playfulness. Foreign travel ($10,000 per airfare) = $600,000. Domestic costs ($1,000 / day) = $420,0000. Domestic travel for play = $180,000. Total cost = $1,300,000.
- Total costs = $2.3 m.
It may well be considerably more; that would be for MFAT to confirm or correct. The point is less the precise figures than the principle of transparency and the convention of intellectual honesty in pursuit of one’s own high-sounding phrases.
Let the final word go to Murray McCully. In his 2012 speech that set the bar for his self-imposed strictures for the UN bid, the Foreign Minister had the following additional comment:
“… at the end of the day, after all the lobbying, vote swap proposals and offers of familiarisation visits to capitals for Permanent Representatives are over, the question that countries need to ask is this: what sort of people, with what sort of values and with what sort of working style, do we want to see sitting around that table in New York when something difficult comes up in our region?”