TODAY |

Opinion: Our Foreign Minister lives a charmed life

Let’s face it: It’s always been a stretch to imagine Murray McCully as the kind of man who, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, would set the global stage alight with his wit, charm and sheer magnetism.

1 NEWS Columnist Dita DeBoni Source: 1 NEWS

He always looks like he’s been at the wrong end of a stun gun, but I suppose it is not fair to judge him on his unblinking-eyed demeanour. 

But it is quite apt, I believe, to suggest he has operated at a level far above his abilities.  It may be the case that he’s an excellent electorate MP, but in his time leading the country’s foreign affairs, he’s not exactly changed the world.

Several years ago I wrote about how McCully appeared to take a bit of a cookie-cutter approach to world conflict. 

The government has been criticised for the multi-million dollar deal which sparked a year-long investigation. Source: 1 NEWS

Where one might expect nuance and enlightened analysis to be his response, one was disappointed.  Instead, McCully’s main message to the world, on behalf of New Zealand, was essentially the famous kindy playground lament: “stop it, I don’t like it!”

Be it a warning to Israel to stop pounding Gaza during the attack of 2014 (which became a warning to both sides to “show restraint”), or to the warring Ukrainians and Russians of that same period (calling on them to “exercise restraint”) or to Egypt, wracked with violence after the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood (we “urge all parties to exercise restraint,") or Libya, which received a lukewarm tongue lashing urging them to “exercise restraint and respect the rule of law” after Gaddafi was deposed, there’s been a remarkable uniformity of response.

His main work in the intervening years has been working the greasy pole to get NZ a stint chairing the UN Security Council, aiming to showcase how awesome and independent we are.  High on our own supply, we swiftly told Russia and the US to wind their necks in over Syria.

Sadly, our exhortations to the world via the medium of Murray McCully have done little to address this or any other carnage.

It would be easy to think of McCully as harmlessly coasting on his overseas sinecures, issuing meaningless press releases and hobnobbing with the great and the good.

But that would also be to ignore the many internal problems - the way he has meddled endlessly in the work of Mfat, the way he has upset a huge number of people who have worked with him, including almost the entire NZ-based aid community, and endlessly shifted blame to his underlings for PR disasters.

The Foreign Minister says the Government did its best on what was a very difficult and lengthy process. Source: 1 NEWS

There’ve been inquiries during his ministerial career, quite a few really - always beginning with what seems like obvious wrongdoing, and ending with a million questions.  But the conclusions always leave him wriggling away, unscathed.

Prior to his life as Foreign Minister, in 1999 he was found to be at fault - but not responsible for - wrongfully made severance payments to Tourism Board directors after a power tussle that turned sour. He had been Tourism Minister in the 1990s National Government.

Then in 2014, Mfat was found to be at fault but the buck stopped well short of McCully when a report outlined the cocked-up handling of a sex assault complaint against a Malaysian diplomat.

And now we have Sheepgate, or the paying of an extraordinary sum of money to a foreign businessman, aimed at quelling a lawsuit which was never going to eventuate anyhow, in the service of procuring a Free Trade Agreement which remains a mirage.

Somehow, using public money and misleading your colleagues and your country about it has only got Mr McCully a slap on the wrist and a vote of full confidence from the Prime Minister.   

Which is extraordinary in the real world, but really not so remarkable at all in the life and times of Murray McCully.