Saudi sheep deal finally over

The Saudi agrihub sheep deal initiated in 2013 by the Government became very controversial and embarrassing for National, and in particular Murray McCully. It has finally put out to pasture.

NZ Herald: Government axes Saudi sheep deal

The controversial Saudi sheep deal been shut down, which the Government says will save about $1 million.

The deal was made to set up an agribusiness hub in the Saudi desert for Saudi businessman Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf, which would be used to showcase innovative New Zealand farming operations.

Taxpayer spending on the agrihub was approved by the previous National Government in February 2013, and the following year 900 sheep were flown over on Singapore Airlines.

But Trade Minister David Parker said the deal has now been axed.

The then-National Government had paid about $10m, including a $4m payment to Al Khalaf, for the deal.

Opposition parties at the time called it a bribe to set up a free trade agreement.

It wasn’t only opposition parties.

The deal was made partly as an effort to secure a free-trade deal with the Gulf States.

Al Khalaf had lost millions of dollars after New Zealand banned live sheep exports for slaughter over animal welfare concerns in 2003, and ill-feeling over his treatment was identified as an obstacle to an FTA progressing.

Former Foreign Minister Murray McCully also said there was a risk Al Khalaf could take legal action. As a result, the deal saw a $4m facilitation payment made to the Al Khalaf Group, and a further $6.5m allocated to create a farm on his land.

The Auditor-General criticised the deal, but found no evidence of corruption or bribery.

No evidence of corruption or bribery perhaps, but plenty of indication of a shonky deal by McCully, approved by the National Cabinet, and swept under the political carpet when exposed.

Saudi sheep revisited

Another old story that has curiously popped up in the middle of an election campaign.

The Saudi sheep deal was embarrassing for the government and deserved scrutiny, but I have suspicions when a story dating back to 2013, that was a big thing in the media in 2015, suddenly pops up right now.

RNZ: Saudi sheep deal: MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not provide legal advice to the government on the risk of being sued by a disgruntled Saudi Arabian businessman, documents reveal.

The admission that no legal advice on the lawsuit threat ever existed directly contradicts comments in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the ministry had taken advice on the issue.

The National government did an $11.5 million deal with Saudi businessman Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf after Cabinet was advised in February 2013 that the Al Khalaf Group was threatening to sue New Zealand for $20-$30m. Mr Al Khalaf had invested heavily in New Zealand and believed New Zealand’s 2003 ban on live exports had left him misled and out of pocket.

In a 2015 interview on TV3’s The Nation, Mr McCully was asked repeatedly what the advice said and whether he would release it.

He replied “it’s the ministry’s advice” and “I’m not going to release the ministry’s advice”. When asked if there was any legal basis for a lawsuit, he said “the advice was that those circumstances did provide such a basis”.

Yet an Official Information Act response from MFAT “following discussion with the Chief Ombudsman” has revealed “it did not seek or provide advice on the extent of the risk of a claim in the New Zealand courts for compensation from the Al Khalaf Group against the government”.

“Effectively, the minister had misled the public,” said Labour’s David Parker.

“This confirms that the $4m cash payment was never legitimate and thanks to disgraceful covering up by MFAT and McCully it has taken more than two years to get an answer.”

So why is this story timed now? McCully is out of Parliament in a week.

Has the timing of the information being released been designed to hide the story in the mass of election coverage?

Or is it timed to try and influence the election by embarrassing the government?

A $4m cash deal should be questioned, but amongst the current lolly scramble it may be seen as just a few more of our dollars thrown around by politicians.

Q&A today

A not very riveting line up on Q+A today.

This could be a bit interesting and is no doubt contentious in the Coast:

A West Coast council is looking at whether to offer up cutting rights for native trees on public land.

The West Coast council and ‘sustainable’ timber business wants to pluck logs out of native forest and they can provide revenue and jobs..

Russel Norman says that the largely ancient forest ecosystems should be left alone and I think it’s hard to argue against that.

Looking back on Murray McCully’s political history (the most interesting bits will probably remain secret):

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is finishing up his 30 year political career. He sits down with Jessica Mutch to discuss the highs and lows.

I was never a fan of McCully, but he seems to have risen to the task of being Foreign Minister, with a few significant question marks.

McCully says he doesn’t feel uncomfortable with any major decisions he’s been involved in. He acknowledges a couple of ‘blemishes’ but won’t give details.

Russel Norman concedes some positives but laments what he sees is the biggest negative – a lack of progress on climate change.

Whale Oil slump

Whale Oil has been trying to trash Bill English since he became Prime Minister and they have been trying to trash National since New Zealand along with all other countries in the security voted in December to censure Israel, except the US who abstained.

This morning ‘Cameron Slater’ tries to connect the poll result to their anti-English and anti-National agenda: First poll of year sees Nats slump 4 points, thanks Murray

National has slumped 4 points int he latest 1News/Colmar Brunton poll.

Winston Peters is in the box seat, but Bill English must be regretting letting Murray McCully run rogue at the UN Security Council. This is the cost.

National has started the slide to a number starting with 3.

Bill English better get well acquainted with Winston Peters…and he better sort out Murray McCully or this drop will be just the start.

That’s nonsensical analysis, it’s just trying to justify WO’s doom and gloom predictions with what is actually a fairly consistent poll result. National results since October 2015: 47, 47, 50, 48, 48, 50, 46 so 46% is nothing like a slump.

In fact National have been polling consistently within a fairly narrow band since 2012 with low points 4-5 years ago.

Slater is demonstrating again that he uses Whale Oil for political activism rather than as credible media alternative.

Notably Slater’s slant is largely unsupported in comments so far.

Wilson: Some in the media were saying the first poll will have a 3 in front of it. So 46% is great.

Curly1952: I believe the drop to 46% for National was to be expected as JK was the glue to the party.

As far as the McCully factor goes I would suggest that large swathes of the electorate won’t even consider the UN resolution as part of the political barometer in NZ.

Most of the electorate are unlikely to be aware of the UN vote, or won’t care about it.

Omlete:I think the broad electorate have enough native smarts to not want the wreckers/ haters and unionist thugs on the treasury benches. It will be a National led government.

Ross:On what evidence exactly do you blame Murray?

Korerorero: I don’t thinks it’s that bad. National was on 50% in the last colmar poll.
So this is probably a correction to be in line with the other polls which had Nats around 46%. I think you’ll see nats stay around this number (or possible rise again) after their budget surprise that will leave labour shell shocked and the voters happy.

The only one supporting Slater’s agenda was ‘Positan’:

It’s not a correction. Within my many circles there was utter disbelief at the Christmas Eve announcement of NZ’s position on Res:2334 – and then anger bordering on outrage at English’s failure to front during the holidays and explain. The anger grew with the continued failure of any senior Nat to front – especially, with the empty silly letters issued by pressured Nat MPs.

Next, there were the circulating stories as to how English & Co had believed the whole matter would be blown over by the end of the holidays – the reason for the deafening silence – which has wrought the real damage of “my party vote will go elsewhere,” and “sorry, no extra donation this year.”

If National’s members are saying those sorts of things out loud now – that’s why the 46% figure has happened. English has completely misread his party’s membership’s feelings and he’s blown it. I think National’s poll figures could get very much worse.

That sounds very similar to some of the anti-National posts over the last two months.

Of course National’s poll figures could get worse, but there is no discernible effect on them from the UN vote against Israel, and this poll result is only being called a slump by Slater and some desperadoes at The Standard.

The only slump shown here is in Whale Oil credibility as a political analyst.

McCully on UN resolution 2334

Murray McCully on the UN resolution that upset Israel:

Opinion: Resolution 2334 – Preserving the two state solution

The spirit of unanimity in which the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2334 on December 23 stands in sharp contrast to the condemnation and accusations that have dominated subsequent commentary from Israel and that country’s supporters.

New Zealanders deserve to know why the issue of settlements has become so challenging, and why it came before the council in December 2016.

At the heart of this whole debate is whether we will see a future in which two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace and security. This two state solution has been the accepted basis for resolving the Palestinian question for many decades now, enshrined in various negotiated accords and UN Security Council resolutions, and the focus for several unsuccessful attempts to broker final agreement between the parties,

The most recent attempt was led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. After showing great promise those talks broke down in 2014.

No one should underestimate the challenges associated with negotiating the terms for a two state solution. Significant compromises are required of both sides, and the domestic political challenges for both are formidable.

But there has been agreement in principle on the key components, security guarantees for Israel and a state for Palestinians based on the 1967 borders but with negotiated land swaps, including a negotiated approach to managing Jerusalem’s holy sites. Resolution 2334 reinforces the international community’s commitment to this negotiated outcome.

Resolution 2334 condemns the obstacles to a negotiated two state solution: incitement and acts of violence and terror against civilians of all sides, and the ongoing settlements programme which carves ever more deeply into the land available for a Palestinian state on the West Bank.

There have been some misleading and irresponsible claims made by critics of the resolution: that it somehow predetermines negotiations between the parties, affects the rights of Israelis to access certain religious sites, or changes the legal status of the West Bank. None of those claims is correct. New Zealand would not have supported it if those assertions were correct, and the US would most certainly not have allowed the resolution to pass.

The focal point for much of the critics’ anger is the direct call for a halt to the settlements. But that call by the council was clear and deliberate because continuing settlement growth at anything like the current rate will render the two state solution a purely academic concept. There will be nothing left to negotiate.

The other reality is that without a two state solution, demographic and security considerations will pose a serious challenge to the future character of Israel. Kerry put it starkly in his statement the week after the adoption of Resolution 2334, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

Those who doubt the seriousness of the settlements issue should read the report of the Middle East Quartet of July 1, 2016. The Quartet comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States. Its report outlines in a careful and factual way the impact of ongoing settlement activity, and more recent moves by the Israeli Parliament to retrospectively legalise settlements developed in contravention of Israeli law.

In Israel this is a politically difficult topic. The settler movement is very influential in the current government, and its leaders occupy a number of key Cabinet posts.

For the whole of New Zealand’s two year term on the Security Council, the Secretary-General and his Special Co-ordinator have expressed alarm that the forces of incitement and violence and the relentless progress of the settlement programme were undermining the two state solution.

Some quite exotic theories have been advanced as to why this resolution was dealt with in the final month of New Zealand’s council membership. The truth is: the United States would not accept any resolution on this topic until after US presidential elections in November. The domestic politics would have been too difficult.

In late 2014 three quarters of the countries in the United Nations voted for New Zealand’s election to the Security Council. They did so because New Zealand has a long standing and respected record for fairness. They also knew of New Zealand’s long standing bi-partisan support for the two state solution as a basis for resolving the Palestinian question.

Against that background it would be very difficult to explain why we would not support a resolution seeking to reinforce the notion of two states living peacefully, side by side, and which called for an end to the incitement, violence and the settlements that pose such a serious threat to it.

McCully on UN vote on Israel

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has surfaced and has spoken about the Security Council vote on Israeli settlements.

NZ Herald: Murray McCully on backlash to UN Security Council resolution: ‘We are not anti-Israel’

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says it is “regrettable” his electorate office was vandalised by people opposed to New Zealand’s sponsorship of a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And while he understood some people felt strongly about it, there was nothing new in New Zealand’s position.

“Obviously we have had a significant number of communications from people who are concerned about the issue,” he told the Herald today.

“But it is very difficult to get past the fact that it is long-standing New Zealand policy to support the two-state solution, to condemn incitement and violence, and to call for a halt to the settlements process.

“These are not new New Zealand policies.”

“We have a longstanding friendship with Israel and our foreign policy positions have been very balanced and fair on these matters.”

“It is simply incorrect to assert that we are anti-Israel in any shape or form.

“The fact is that there was a particular resolution before the council that our longstanding policy positions support, and so we supported it.”

“We hope that a normal friendly relationship with Israel will resume soon.”

There is nothing much new in that but McCully may have felt it necessary to address some of the criticisms aimed at him and the Government.

McCully’s office vandalised

RNZ report that Murray McCully’s office has been graffiti’d:  Foreign Minister’s electorate office vandalised


Petty vandalism like this doesn’t do anything for the wall scribble or their case.

It’s pathetic calling McCully a traitor, and ‘jew hater’ is nothing more than ignorant abuse.

Israel backs off

Israel has wound back their rhetoric after condemning New Zealand’s involvement in the UN vote against Israeli settlements, which included publicising a phone call in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully that a vote against Israel would be a declaration of war.

Following the Security Council vote, in which no country supported Israel (it passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining), the Israeli government withdrew its ambassador and barred New Zealand’s ambassador from Israel.

Israel also threatened sanctions against countries including New Zealand who had sanctioned the UN resolution. But they are now saying no sanctions will be imposed “until further notice”.

Stuff: Israel pauses further sanctions on New Zealand ‘until further notice’

Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand Itzhak Gerberg will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss whether further sanctions against NZ are appropriate.

“My ambassador has just arrived in Israel today. He will have a meeting with the Prime Minister tomorrow, so until further notice there are no further sanctions,” said Patricia Deen, spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in Wellington.

This appears to be a winding back of posturing by Israel. Yesterday:

Netanyahu personally phoned Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully before the vote, his office has confirmed.

Israeli publication Haaretzciting unnamed western diplomats, described a “harsh” phone call between the pair.

“This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not promote it,” Netanyahu reportedly told McCully.

“If you continue to promote this resolution from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences.”

This was an own goal by Israel. It may have been aimed at appearing to be tough in Israel, but it was always likely to lose rather than gain support internationally, and certainly in New Zealand.

Israel’s arguments in New Zealand were further damaged by being promoted by Whale Oil, not a good way to win popular support here.

Deen said the phone call had been “blown out of proportion” but didn’t want to comment on it in detail.

If Netenyahu hadn’t  leaked the details of the phone call the adverse reaction wouldn’t have happened.

Netanyahu is furious with the decision. He has halted aid to Senegal and said “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council”.

The US were fed up with Israel’s continued flaunting of attempts to dampen disquiet over the settlements and refused to veto the vote.

Will Netenyahu halt US aid to Israel?

Reuters: U.S., Israel sign $38 billion military aid package

The United States will give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in U.S. history, under a landmark agreement signed on Wednesday.

Nearly 10 months of drawn-out aid negotiations underscored continuing friction between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu over last year’s U.S.-led nuclear deal with Israel’s arch-foe Iran, an accord the Israeli leader opposed. The United States and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians.

The settlements have been one point of contention there.

But the right-wing Netanyahu decided it would be best to forge a new arrangement with Obama, who leaves office in January, rather than hoping for better terms from the next U.S. administration, according to officials on both sides.

So it looks like Netanyahu gambled on Clinton winning the election.

Israel won’t win international support if they publicise threats against smaller countries, and threaten and impose sanctions, while they accept huge amounts of aid from the US who also enabled the UN resolution to pass.

I can imagine the US won’t have been impressed with Israel’s publicising of Netenyahu’s ‘declaration of war’ phone call.


Israel threatened vote was ‘declaration of war’

It’s being reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally phoned Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully prior to the Security Council vote on the resolution against Israeli settlements warning that a New Zealand vote would be a “declaration of war”.

That’s an over the top and disturbing threat.

Stuff: Israel warned New Zealand that UN resolution was ‘declaration of war’ – report

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu personally phoned Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully to warn him a UN resolution New Zealand co-sponsored was a “declaration of war,” according to a report.

Israeli publication Haaretzciting unnamed western diplomats, reported that a “harsh” phone call took place between the Israeli Prime Minister and McCully on the day of the vote.

“This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not promote it,” Netanyahu reportedly told McCully.

“If you continue to promote this resolution from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences.”

McCully reportedly refused to back down, according to Haaretz, telling Netanyahu the resolution was consistent with New Zealand policy on the dispute.

McCully’s office have confirmed to Stuff that a phone call between the Minister and Netanyahu took place just before the vote. They refused to publicly comment on the content of the conversation.

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs shouldn’t comment on conversations with Prime Ministers.

It seems very inappropriate that Israel, presumably the Prime Minister’s office, should be leaking conversations like this to media.

Earlier this week McCully publicly said that Israel shouldn’t be surprised by New Zealand’s position.

New Zealand has used its time on the Security Council to consistently called for a halt to settlements.

I wonder if Israel will declare war against the UK, Russia, France and China for voting for the resolution.

Coleman, McCully, Collins and Smith

Prior to the Ministerial reshuffle there was particular interest in what might happen to Murray McCully, who is retiring next year, Nick Smith, who is considered a friend of Bill English and who has struggled dealing with housing in Auckland, And Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins who challenged English for the leadership.

McCully has kept his Foreign Affairs portfolio to help with transition but will be replaced on May 1. English said:

“I am keen for Murray to stay on for this transitional period to ensure I have the benefit of his vast experience on the wide range of issues that affect New Zealand’s vital interests overseas.”

Jonathan Coleman has slipped down the order from 5 to 7 (to accommodate a promotion for Simon Bridges) but retains his Health and Sport and Recreation portfolios. He had indicated an interest in Foreign Affairs.

English could take over Foreign Affairs when McCully goes, or could give it to Coleman.

Michael Woodhouse has jumped up from 16 to 9 but doesn’t have heavy duty portfolios (he kept Immigration and Workplace Relations and Safety, but had Revenue swapped for ACC), so could pick up Health, a field he has experience in.

Collins has dropped from 13 to 16 and has lost Police and Corrections, picking up Revenue,
Energy and Resources  and Minister for Ethnic Communities.

There is some irony in the latter portfolio, probably not deliberate of English, after a post by Collins promoter and fan Cameron Slater yesterday:

But bizarrely, Little made Michael Wood, the bland white man that parking meters are taller than, the ethnic communities spokesman. Imagine if National had Todd McClay, a man who is whiter than white appointed as Ethnic Communities Minister because he has some brown people in his electorate. That is precisely what Labour have done and there is not even a mention, nor a mutter, nor a murmur about it from the usual outraged suspects. Total silence.

I guess from this that Slater didn’t have advance notice of the appointment of Collins to the Ethnic Communities portfolio.

Wood also has responsibility for Revenue for Labour. He could find Collins tough to deal with.

Media and pundit knives were out for Nick Smith as he hasn’t exactly had a stellar year, struggling to deal with Housing and stuffing up liaison with Maori on both housing issues and the Kermadec sanctuary.

Smith has slipped down the pecking order from 11 to 15, which is a significant drop. But he retains Environment, and Building and Housing has morphed into Building and Construction. What’s the difference between Building and Construction?

Social Housing is a separate ministry, and has been transferred from Paula Bennett to Amy Adams.

Perhaps adding to leadership rivalry, Bennett has taken over Police from Collins.