Casually wasting diplomatic capital

March 29, 2018

Is the government deliberately setting out to upset international friends?

It started with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s repeatedly sticking her nose into Australia’s affairs over Manus Island refugees.

She followed up by making the mistake of telling a story about Donald Trump mistaking her for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s wife which she ought not to have shared.

Then came the reluctance by her and Foreign Minister Winston Peters to condemn Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

And now New Zealand is an international laughing stock over the PM’s claim we have no undeclared Russian spies here.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any.

More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March.

The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country. . . 

The ABC explains the difference between declared and undeclared spies:

. . . Spy is the conventional term for someone who gathers intelligence overseas, without letting their host country know what they are doing.

They often present themselves as diplomats and work out of embassies, alongside declared intelligence officers.

The difference between declared and undeclared intelligence officers is that the legitimate ones present their credentials to their host country and make it known they are there to make contact and to formally share mutually beneficial information.

Spies appear on an embassy’s list of diplomats, but they are involved in gathering other intelligence.

According to Ian Lincoln, a former diplomat who is now president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (New South Wales), spies have the same objectives as intelligence officers but use different methods, such as gathering intelligence through unofficial contacts, sometimes by finding a weakness in an individual.

John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies, says undeclared intelligence officers pretend to comply with regular protocols, appearing at events and doing other things that make them look like regular diplomats, but on the side, they are carrying out a range of other activities. . . 

Richard Harman’s Politik morning e-newsletter says:

There has been no comment on whether any of the 16 staff with diplomatic status at the Russian Embassy [ in Wellington] may be undeclared intelligence officers — but it is a comparatively  large staff for a country which would seem to have only peripheral interests here..
In comparison’ Australia has 13; China 23 and the USA, 48. 

David Lange’s government burned off friends with its anti-nuclear policy but that was a matter of principle.

This government’s stand doesn’t look to be done on principle:

Whether or not we are seeing the emergence of a new Peters Doctrine is moot. We shall have to wait to see. But it’s curious that Labour has been dragged into this line of thinking.

It may be that Ardern & Co have an instinctive willingness to not necessarily fall in behind the great powers of the West. But is this really the time? Given the personalities in charge of what can be loosely called the West – especially President Donald Trump – there may well be a time quite soon when we want to play an independent hand. There may soon be issues where we want to stand apart from the US and other Western (or Five Eyes) allies on issues of real importance.

So why waste your card playing it now? Why raise the eyebrows – and perhaps the ire – of our traditional friends over this case? New Zealand bases its foreign policy on the international rule of law, so when there is a global consensus that Russia has blatantly and murderously broken those rules, why would we not rush to stand alongside those protesting such an action? Surely this is an opportunity to earn show some solidarity with Britain, the US and others, given that down the track we may want to spend some diplomatic capital distancing ourselves from them.

It seems a careless, overly casual and unnecessary waste of diplomatic capital; one I suspect this government will soon regret.

If the government was acting on principle its words and actions might be understood.

But rather than principle, it looks like it’s fooling round with foreign policy, carelessly and casually wasting hard-won diplomatic capital.

In doing so it’s dangerously out of step with both security and trading partners in a time when the foreign and trading environments are anything but benign.

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Who do you believe?

March 27, 2018

National MP Mark Mitchell says New Zealand First has been trying to buy National MPs’ silence.

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

“But this is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.

“This billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.

“The Prime Minister needs to find out which of her Ministers is attempting to use public money for political gain and she needs to quickly explain what she intends to do about it.”

That’s one side of the story.

Here’s the other:

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft was instructed to apologise to the National Party, after being accused of threatening to use taxpayer cash for political gain.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said National MP Mark Mitchell had misunderstood Ms Marcroft in a conversation which “got out of hand” over the weekend.

And Mr Peters rejected claims Ms Marcroft was following the instructions of any NZ First ministers.

“New Zealand First does not seek to constrain opposition MPs from criticism of the government,” he said.

This from the man who has so little trust in his own MPs that he sought to constrain them by making the waka-jumping bill part of the coalition agreement.

But Mr Mitchell told RNZ he did not believe that “for one minute” and denied ever receiving an apology.

“I have not received any apology from Jenny or from anyone from New Zealand First at all. All I’ve received is a text message saying please disregard our conservation.”

Who do you believe?

It’s a local MP’s job to advocate for his constituents and projects that would benefit them.

It sounds like Mitchell has been doing his job too well for the comfort of the government.

 

 


Paying cost of lack of preparedness

March 23, 2018

Labour wasn’t prepared for opposition when John Key led the National Party to its election win in 2008.

Nor was it prepared for government when Winston Peters anointed it last year.

It wasted nine years in opposition, wracked by internal dissent, spending a lot more time on leadership wrangles than policy development.

It didn’t expect to win last year’s election and so made stupid promises, like the fees-free tertiary education, it didn’t think it would have to keep.

The price for Labour’s lack of preparedness is a policy vacuum  which Checkpoint points out it has filled with reviews, working groups, advisory groups and investigations.

Ministers have announced 39 of those in three months – one every four days.

A few might be acceptable, even wise, for a new government, 39 is not.

Instead of a government of action we’ve got one  of inaction and prevarication.

Instead of governing, it’s marking time while it marshalls the policies it ought to have been working on in opposition.

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Troubles in threes plus

March 22, 2018

If troubles really did come in threes then the Young Labour camp sex scandal, Foreign Minister Winston Peter’s initial refusal to accept Russia’s involvement in the spy poisoning case and questions over Defence Minister Ron Mark’s use of Air Force helicopters would have been the only problems for the government last week.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had another fire to fight – Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa spending more than $30,000 on travel in three months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa is “hugely disappointed” her travel expenses are so high and is working to fix it.

People don’t know what they don’t know, but it would be helpful if all Ministers did know what was and wasn’t appropriate spending and that they knew about overspending when it was happening and not so long after the event.

The PM had another problem yesterday and was forced to say Minister Shane Jones calling for heads to roll at Air New Zealand was a step too far.

Mr Jones, the Minister for Regional Economic Development, said earlier this week that Air New Zealand had turned its back on the regions.

When the company’s board and chief executive objected to his comments and told him to back off, he then called for people to resign. . . 

That’s three New Zealand First Ministers causing problems in less than a fortnight.

Politik reports tensions between that party and Labour over water and defence.

It would be risky to bet there won’t be more before too long.


Jump while you can Ron

March 16, 2018

Ron Marks is being accused of using Airforce helicopters as taxis.

Last year he was in the news for the wrong reason for breaking rules for wearing his military medals.

Last year he was rolled as party deputy.

If he jumps from his party now he will be sacked as minister.

But if he doesn’t jump now he’s at risk of being kicked out of parliament altogether when his leader Winston Peters gets his wake-jumping bill passed.


Consumers pay cost of tariffs

March 13, 2018

USA President’s decision to impose tariffs on some imported goods could start trade wars.

That appears to be something of which Foreign Minister Winston Peters approves:

What’s Donald Trump’s biggest complaint? It’s that countries shouting out ‘free trade for America’ don’t practise free trade themselves. In fact it’s New Zealand First’s and my complaint that the countries we deal with apply tariffs against us whilst we’re giving them total and unfettered access to our country. It’s simply not fair.

It might not be fair but imposing tariffs on goods from other countries in retaliation is simply stupid.

It might protect inefficient local industries but local consumers will pay for that in higher prices and less choice.

 


Will Marks be rolled?

February 22, 2018

There were no surprises when Winston Peters was re-elected leader of New Zealand First unopposed.

The man and the party are almost one and the same thing and there would be no question of dissension

But this morning’s Politik newsletter Richard Harman, who is usually well informed, suggests that Peters might be about to depose Ron Mark as deputy in favour of Fletcher Tabuteau.

The waka jumping legislation hasn’t been passed yet.

If Mark was sufficiently unhappy with show of no confidence in him he could leave the party and still stay in parliament.

That would mean he’d no longer be a minister though and he could well find that too high a price to pay no matter how upset he was.

 

 


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