Opinion: Brownlee's unseemly kowtowing to Israel leaves a big mess to clear up

It is going to take something far more substantial and meaningful than lessons in "appropriate diplomatic language" to clear up the mess left by Gerry Brownlee's first foray as Foreign Minister.

Despite the Prime Minister not so subtly urging his Cabinet colleague to take a crash course in statecraft, it is hard to picture senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offering tutorials to their minister on such protocol.

McCully speaks to Q+A about the last eight years as Foreign Minister as he exits the role tomorrow. Source: Q+A

There would be little point in doing so.

Brownlee has been in Parliament for more than 20 years, nearly nine of those as a Cabinet minister. Of note is his close to three-year stint as defence minister - a kind of apprenticeship for the more heavyweight foreign affairs role.

Brownlee is thus well acquainted with the rules and conventions of international discourse.

In his rush to put New Zealand's relations with Israel "back on track", however, those norms deserted him.

No sooner had Brownlee been officially installed as Foreign Minister than he was dictating a grovelling letter to Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This was accompanied by Brownlee indicating in numerous interviews that he was unimpressed with the prominent role New Zealand played in getting Security Council backing for efforts to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

His dismissive verdict is a very large slap in the face for Murray McCully, his predecessor in the foreign affairs portfolio.

The latter had made progress in the peace process one of the prime objectives of New Zealand's two-year term on the Security Council.

The resolution co-sponsored by New Zealand and passed by the council late last year rebuked Israel for continuing to establish and expand Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The resolution may not have been perfect. But it was still a massive achievement on New Zealand's part to get it passed.

Source: 1 NEWS

Last week's unseemly kowtowing by Brownlee to Israel has undermined that resolution.

He might view the resolution as anti-Israeli. It was actually far more sympathetic than Netanyahu deserved.

It was a plea to the Israelis to halt expansion of settlements while the establishment of a separate Palestinian state was still geographically viable.

The date when that would no longer be the case was not that far away.

Using the creeping expansion of Jewish settlements to deny the Palestinians nationhood might look clever. But Israelis would inevitably pay a big price for it.

They and subsequent generations would be sentenced to conflict forever and a day.

Mr Brownlee's first task will be dealing with a nuclear North Korea as Bill English rejigs his Cabinet. Source: 1 NEWS

During McCully's watch, there had been clarity and purpose in New Zealand's stance. Under Brownlee, those attributes necessary to buttress any policy have been sacrificed and replaced by confusion.

The genuflecting to Tel Aviv has made a mockery of New Zealand's supposedly independent foreign policy.

The country instead has a foreign minister who appears to see little value in the Security Council as a forum for resolving disputes - and thus little value in seeking a seat on the body.

Rather than acknowledge Brownlee has blundered big time, Bill English suggested his minister's comments were those of someone still "trying to find the right language" in his new role.

Brownlee played along by indicating he was willing to take lessons from his advisors on the finer arts of diplomacy.

Brownlee knew exactly what he was doing, however. Less clear were the reasons why he was doing it.

The speculation has varied between the mundane - Brownlee's desire to stamp his authority on his new portfolio - to the extreme - that Israel's intelligence agency Mossad is well capable of mounting cyber attacks on New Zealand businesses and government infrastructure should New Zealand persist in being an irritant on the international stage.

There are also suggestions that some of the National Party's longstanding funders have slammed their cheque books shut in anger at what McCully had done.

That may be so. But Brownlee's desire to curb the domestic fall-out from the Government's stance on the peace process could yet turn New Zealand into an international laughing stock.

What kind of country moves heaven and earth to secure the passage of a resolution only to then disavow it less than six months later?

Brownlee's thinking aloud has handed the Israelis an invaluable propaganda gift. If a co-sponsor of a Security Council resolution is now questioning its desirability, why should Israel and its allies pay any heed to it?

More fundamentally, Brownlee has created uncertainty about New Zealand's continued adherence to the longstanding "two state solution" which envisages a separate Palestinian nation alongside Israel with both countries having the acknowledged right to exist.

In declaring that the Security Council resolution was "premature ", Brownlee seemed to be taking no cognisance of the decreasing viability of a separate Palestine, thereby making New Zealand's adherence to a two-state solution more fiction than fact.

English has been at pains to stress that is not the case and that National still adheres to long-established policy.

Brownlee's volte face could have much wider connotations, however.

Other countries will be asking themselves whether New Zealand can any longer be expected to stick fast to the positions it takes on a whole gamut of matters in the international spotlight.

It is an issue of trust. When it comes to oiling the wheels of diplomacy, trust is an essential ingredient. Brownlee's advisors might well remind him of that.


NZ strawberry grower forks out $20,000 for security measures

An Auckland strawberry grower has forked out more than $20,000 for metal detectors, after needle-ridden strawberries were found in New Zealand.

On Sunday, three needles were found in one punnet of Western Australian strawberries at an Auckland supermarket.

It was still unclear where the needles came from.

Australia's strawberry contamination crisis comes just as New Zealand growers are about to put their fruit on the market.

The Zaberri Strawberry farm is just 20 minutes north of Auckland City.

A large silver tin shed sits at the entrance, that's the pack house, and 29 fields lined with rows of strawberry plants surround it.

The farm's owner, who goes by one name, Boman, has run the place for nine years.

In two weeks 150 of his workers will start the harvest.

"We pick [the strawberries] in the early hours of the morning, so ideally we try to have all of our fields picked before... midday, one o'clock and they'll be picked here, and scanned and sent to the packhouse," he said.

Police in Australia have been investigating more than 100 reports of contaminated fruit, many of which are believed to be hoaxes and copycat incidents.

And every Australian strawberry now has to pass through a metal detector before it can be exported.

The same regulations have not been imposed on the 150 New Zealand growers - but Boman was not taking any risks.

"So, we've invested in metal detectors, which will be installed here before our season starts and everything that's been picked and packed will be examined.

"We'll be adding additional surveillance cameras to capture everything that goes in and out of our cool stores," he said.

Despite spending more than $20,000 on the new security measures, Boman is certain the strawberry sabotage crisis won't happen here.

"Some might think that it's over the top, but I think it is better to be ready to ensure our industry is not put into a chaos like what's happened in Australia," he said.

It's a crucial time for strawberry growers - the harvest season has already started for some and it's about to start for others.

The Australian industry, worth about $AU130 million annually, was hit at the start of its season.

The scare prompted product recalls and forced growers to destroy their crops.

If the situation here reaches the same level, the $35m New Zealand industry will be hit hard, Boman said.

"It'll have a significant impact on our financial ability going forward, and not just for us, I think right across, from the growers mainly, retailers will be affected and there will be many employees.

"We've got people here whose whole family relies on them."

The maximum penalty for contaminating food in New Zealand is ten years' imprisonment.

By Katie Scotcher


Strawberry grower Boman
Strawberry grower Boman. Source: rnz.co.nz


All Blacks legend Richie McCaw shares his top tips for success with young leaders

There's no question that plenty of kids look up to Richie McCaw and dream of the kind of success he's had.

So, you can imagine how stoked 800 odd secondary students were today when the man himself shared his own leadership lessons at the Kids with Character Empower Me Leadership seminar in Auckland.

TVNZ1's Seven Sharp asked him what his top tips were for kids.

Tip 1:

"The first one that I really live by is that you can't go past hard work, if you think it's going to be easy, if you achieve it when it's easy you're probably not going to get the satisfaction of what it's all about."

Tip 2:

"Attention to detail, understanding of what it takes as not everyone knows, asking for advice or asking for help from people around you who can see things from a different way."

Tip 3:

"You got to have that drive. It's not someone telling you that you've got to work hard, you've got to really want to do it yourself and I think the people who have that are the most successful."

All advice that will help McCaw in perhaps his biggest challenge of all, becoming a dad.

McCaw spoke at the Character Empower Me Leadership seminar in Auckland. Source: Seven Sharp



More than 200 people report adverse reactions to recently-funded antidepressant

Concern is mounting over a recently funded antidepressant, with a growing number of patients reporting life-threatening side-effects. 

Pharmac's switch to funding Enlafax a year ago saves the drug buying agency $5.4 million a year. 

It expected around 1 per cent of the 45,000 patients taking it could experience adverse reactions because of the brand switch. That's about 450 people. 

While complaints now stand at over 240 and climbing, support groups say the number of people suffering is far higher. 

In a small Bay of Plenty town, one highly experienced GP, Dr Christine Williams, is grappling with the problem.  

"I've seen people that had gambling addictions return to gambling and lose their jobs. I've seen marriages break down," Dr Williams told 1 NEWS. 

She says this patent behaviour is all linked to the generic antidepressant Enlafax.

"With this particular group of patients I don't have any that are responding to it, not one." 

The symptoms of 12 patients are similar to those experienced hundreds of kilometres away by Amy in Marlborough.

"Within two weeks of starting Enlafax I was having nightmares and feeling depressed, thoughts of self harm and suicide," Amy said. 

Medsafe is standing by its decision to approve the drug which saw Effexor-XR replaced with the cheaper generic brand Enlafax.

It says the brand switch complies with international best practice and that tests show Enlafax has the same benefits and risks as Effexor-XR. 

"They don't switch to a generic without adequate research and investigation," Dr Jan White of the NZMA GP Council said. 

Dr White says she has seen no problems from Enlafax at her busy city practice. 

But complaints about Enlafax are piling up. The agency monitoring adverse reactions to drugs has now received more than 240 complaints, many identifying side-effects like severe depression and suicidal thoughts.  

And a Facebook page set up by patients with adverse reactions claims to have logged 450 negative responses to Enlafax. 

They're experiences like those of Amy who says her GP wanted to increase her dose when she became unwell.

The mother of two only learnt about negative side-effects in a 1 NEWS report three weeks ago. 

"I'm not sure if I would be here right now if I had waited and stayed on it," Amy said.

Dr Williams said: "I'm sure it's the tip of the iceberg."

And with the prospect of more vulnerable lives unravelling, Dr Williams says it's vital the previous brand Effexor-XR remains available. 

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Pharmac’s switch to Enlafax one year ago saves the drug buying agency $5.4million per year. Source: 1 NEWS

Mackenzie District pleading for financial help to cope with influx of tourists

One of the country's most picturesque tourist destinations is pleading for financial help to cope with a massive influx of visitors.

The Mackenzie District Council has applied for a grant from the provincial growth fund to pay for a feasibility study in Tekapo.

The stunning views see 4000 people visit Tekapo every day.

Its popularity has led to rapid expansion, with five hotels seeking consent to build and new subdivisions filling up fast.

"With the problems that Queenstown has had, we think we've got a lot to learn," Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith told 1 NEWS.

The council's applied for $800,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund to help with future planning.

It’s applied for a grant from the Provincial Growth Fund. Source: 1 NEWS