McClay reprimanded over Chinese trade issues

The Trade Minister Todd McClay has been publicly reprimanded by John Key for not being open and honest to Key or to the public after a story broke about alleged Chinese threats over trade.

Stuff: McClay rebuked by PM after failing to reveal wider fears of China retribution

After days downplaying Stuff reports, McClay on Monday revealed officials have been “for months” examining reports that China could retaliate if an investigation into steel dumping in New Zealand went ahead.

He also apologised to Key for not seeking more detail on the issue, but he stopped short of offering his resignation.

Key said McClay’s answers to media at a joint press conference in Indonesia, after Stuff broke the story, left the impression “that the only correspondence, the only discussion, had been between Zespri and a non-Government organisation and that’s not true”.

It’s not uncommon for Ministers to avoid telling the public everything about an issue, sometimes to try and protect themselves, sometimes to protect others from revelations that could be embarrassing.

But to not be up front with the Prime Minister can create serious problems for the Government, as it did in this case due to Key giving responses to media that turned out to be inaccurate.

There had been discussions and correspondence with others.

“He should have made both the media and me aware of that.”

“I think he took a very literal interpretation of the question that was asked of him. While that …may have been technically correct the point I was making to him is that’s giving a very specific and, I think, ‘dancing on the head of a pin’-type of answer to what was really a broader question. “

Key says that McClay has apologised to him but has not offered his resignation. McClay should be on notice not to stuff up like this again.

Labour leader Andrew Little called for Key to sack McClay. 

“A Minister who does not appreciate the seriousness of possible retaliatory action by our biggest trading partner against some of our biggest export industries simply should not be in the job.”

I have no idea whether it warrants the sacking of McClay, but Opposition calls for sackings tend to be not infrequent and often overplayed. In any case McClay may have appreciated the seriousness of the issue with China, but not the importance of properly informing the PM.

McClay was hamstrung in what he could say about a possible complaint about steel dumping because under WTO rules the Government could not confirm that until a formal investigation was launched.

How much to tell the PM is an ongoing judgement call by ministers, in this case poorly judged by McClay, but if Ministers resigned or were sacked over every stuff up there would be a drastic shortage of experience in Cabinet.

Key still played down the seriousness of the trade threats.

Key continued to describe the fears of China retaliating as “unsubstantiated rumours”.

“I think it still does fit in that category.”

There had been “engagement” like the one between an NGO and Zespri.

“What has happened is where there have been questions raised about whether, if there was an action taken, there would be retaliatory action the minister and the ministry have sought assurances that wouldn’t take place,” Key said.

“And to the best of our knowledge they have received those assurances.”

There have been claims ranging from serious trade threats from China to the story being an over-egged political hit job in New Zealand.

If the latter then jeopardising trade relations with China for political purposes deserves some attention, but don’t expect openness with the public or resignations for stuff ups in that respect.

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7 Comments

  1. duperez

     /  26th July 2016

    This whole thing is a nothing event. How?
    Well Todd McClay was reprimanded by John Key for not being open and honest to Key or to the public. Big deal, pro forma.
    Not being “up front with the Prime Minister can create serious problems for the Government” is like a kid having a messy bedroom – in the overall scheme of things the world won’t end.

    And there you have it, the Government is in the position to do what it likes. And it does.

    The McClays can be accused of not being up front, being fast and loose with the truth, or plain dishonesty. The either/or brings the option of incompetent. But it’s not serious because of any thought of what that sort of behaviour means past causing “serious problems” for the Government.
    Accusations come the same day that there is something untoward the awarding of a Charter School contract to a group which didn’t tender.

    And that’s where you really have it. The wall is a political one, the issues bricks given a quick slash of mortar, a lick of paint, or ignored.

    Reaching a casual acceptance of anything goes unless it it causes electoral problems for a Government is a sad station to arrive at.

    Now let’s talk about ridding the country of ferals.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  26th July 2016

      o_O

      Reply
    • Blazer

       /  26th July 2016

      dead right duperez,divert….after wheeling out another, in a long list of…’fallguys’!

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  26th July 2016

        Cheers for the concise summary, Blazer.

        Reply
      • Corky

         /  26th July 2016

        You can never have enough fall guys when in power. Blazer. I believe Labour is tendering for a cliff. Talk about confidence. They haven’t any fall guys…no need.

        Reply
  2. Zedd

     /  26th July 2016

    I thought it was ‘Team Key’ policy to sit back & let the market do its own thing.. if all else fails just “flog it off to the highest bidder.”
    Inc. Swamp Kauri : supposedly in the form of ‘finished table tops & carved totem poles’ ! :/

    Whats next ? Rat meat to the starving in Africa ?? 😦

    Reply
    • duperez

       /  26th July 2016

      That’s a bit harsh! Next thing you’ll be pondering the plan to get rid of weasels with some veiled reference to cannibalism.

      Reply

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