Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 21 April 2006 21 April 2006

(#243) A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

A Plea in Mitigation

The worldwide headquarters of has been quiet these last two weeks. The distraction? Initially international sporting obligations in Europe, followed by heavy duty trade promotion work in Washington. Here’s the plea in mitigation.

The New Zealand Parliamentary Rugby Club

In 1995, the year the Rugby World Cup was staged in the newly reconstructed South Africa, an inaugural Parliamentary Rugby World Cup was held. Not, as some cynics have asserted, to arrive at a ready excuse to congregate and then watch the main event (parliamentary timetables preclude such indulgences), but to afford an opportunity for parliamentary exchanges at two very different levels.

First, the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup provides an opportunity for parliamentarians, staffers and the odd hanger-on to mix with political leaders from rugby nations like South Africa, France, the UK and Ireland, and Australia. Equally important the event requires a group of parliamentarians to leave party political considerations to one side and operate as a team. In that sense there is no other parliamentary institution remotely like it.

Between World Cup competitions a range of individual contests take place. And this year, to mark the centenary of the New Zealand-France rugby relationship, the Assemblee Nationale (the French Parliament) invited the New Zealand Parliamentary team to a game to mark the event. A one-off “test” against the UK Commons and Lords team resulted in a 44-5 win for the Kiwi team. The event in Paris was a closer affair (20-10), completing a clean sweep (including a victory over Australia a week before departure).

Critics have questioned the wisdom of middle-aged politicians engaging in contact sport, as well as the expenditure of time and money (sponsors’, not taxpayers’). But in terms of both building cross-party and international relationships, parliamentary rugby is a huge success, affording access at levels beyond the reach of any old parliamentary delegation. The civilizing effect of a genuine cross-party venture of this sort is unreplicated anywhere else in this Parliament and is well worth preserving.

The NZ-US Business Council

A 2-day NZ-US Business Council Forum takes place in Washington this Friday and Saturday. The importance placed on advancing the US relationship is signaled by the composition of the NZ delegation: 2 former PMs (Bolger and Moore), 2 Ministers (Goff and Cunliffe), the Leader of the Opposition Don Brash, and 2 colleagues, and a clutch of CEO level representatives of our major corporates.

With Australia now well into the second year of its evolving free trade agreement (FTA) with the US, NZ business is acutely aware of the growing cost of our failure to get on the FTA dance card. And all the signs are there that this will be a medium term, not a short term, project.

Any political party intent on forming the next government must invest in establishing and building the critical relationships in the US. Meetings with key US administration figures (Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Assistant Secretary Chris Hill), are a valuable spin-off from attendance at the Forum. The decision by the Opposition Leader Don Brash (who will speak at the Forum) to attend is a clear signal that the alternative government of NZ is investing heavily in the relationship, and is determined to work with the current government to present the face of NZ Inc in this critical market.


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