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Foreign Minister Murray McCully on TVNZ’s Q+A programme

Foreign Minister Murray McCully on TVNZ’s Q+A programme

Foreign Minister Murray McCully told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that the Malaysian diplomat accused of sexually assaulting a Wellington woman will be back in New Zealand ‘sometime soon’.

‘Oh sometime soon, there's a legal process underway. Look the Malaysian Minister and government, are acting completely on the basis that they can have faith in the New Zealand judicial system and the operation of the New Zealand government.’

Murray McCully has told the Malaysian government that diplomat Muhammad Rizalman Ismail is going to get a fair trial in New Zealand.

‘…and I'm doing my level best to make sure that’s the case, and that it's not prejudiced with a lot of loose talk.’

Mr McCully admitted he hasn’t watched a television interview with the alleged victim.

‘Oh look my job is here to try and make sure that the Malaysian government can have confidence in our system. I'm not going to get tied up in a domestic debate, even though it's coming close to an election. I know why the Labour Party find it attractive, but we should not trivialise what is an important issue here.’

On the campaign for a UN Security Council seat Mr McCully said, we are ‘not the front runner, but we're up against two very big much better resourced competitors, Spain and Turkey. They’ve got many more missions and many more places, so we have to do the yards to make sure our candidature is understood, and appreciated.’

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

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Q + A
Episode 22
MURRAY McCULLY
Interviewed by MICHEAL PARKIN

SUSAN So we heard David Shearer before the break, urging the government to take a stronger stand on Israel. Michael's with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

MICHAEL Jet lagged Minister thank you for joining me. You heard David Shearer's criticisms there. Is the government holding back on this crisis between Hamas and Israel?

MURRAY No, and you would have heard the Prime Minister make some very strong statements on the issue last week. What we are seeing in the Gaza is a human tragedy unfolding and what's worse it's a man-made human tragedy. The New Zealand government's been expressing its views about this matter forthrightly over recent weeks, had the Israeli Ambassador called in the week before last to convey formally the New Zealand government's views, and to draw attention to the fact that the International Community were on the mounting toll of civilian casualties in Palestine.

MICHAEL And some of the words you’ve used in your statements, you know show restraint, that you're greatly concerned, that you strongly support this sort of action. I mean it's sort of fence sitting language isn’t it? And doesn’t New Zealand need to be putting its hand up and taking a leadership role in this if we want that Security Council seat?

MURRAY Well it's not about the Security Council seat, it's about a whole lot of people getting killed in Gaza, and we've been very clear that we think that this is a completely unacceptable tragedy in which you're seeing UN sites, UN schools being shelled, and those same schools being used to store Hamas rockets. I mean this is stuff that is going to have a very predictable outcome, and that’s what we're seeing.

MICHAEL They're war crimes aren't they?

MURRAY Well there is a legal definition around that, so I'm not going to buy into it. What I'm saying is that it is a human tragedy and it's a manmade human tragedy. The Security Council hasn’t been able to deal with it. The International Community hasn’t been able to find a solution. I'm hopeful in fact that you'll see Israel take this into its own hands in terms of a unilateral withdrawal over the next few days.

MICHAEL We've seen obviously this morning comment from Netanyahu saying that that’s not going be the case, that the fighting will continue ….

MURRAY Well I'm not quite sure that that’s quite what he's saying. It would have been obviously preferable to see the ceasefire stick, it didn’t. I expressed a concern about the durability of it at the time. I think there is a reasonable chance that Israel will decide for its own reasons to pull back and I'm certainly hoping that’s going to be the case.

MICHAEL You mentioned that you spoke to the Israeli Ambassador. The Greens have said kick him out of the country. Is that something that you would entertain?

MURRAY Look we have a fairly calibrated process here. When something requires a formal communication from New Zealand government we have the Chief Executive or Deputy Secretary call on the relevant Ambassador, formally conveying New Zealand's views. And that’s what happened I think about 10 days ago. We're looking at updating our views with the Israeli Ambassador. We're much better to have him here where he can hear our views and express those views back to Jerusalem.

MICHAEL Are you afraid of upsetting Israel, because of that support it's given for the Security Council?

MURRAY No we're not, we're actually afraid of being less than even handed and fear about the issue. We want to ensure that the killing stops, and if we can't talk to people obviously we're not going to be very persuasive. Using a moderate language is not solving anything. We hear plenty of immoderate language around what's happening in the Middle East, and it doesn’t take you anywhere. This is a time for people to exercise some calm diplomacy, to try and find a way through something that has not been solvable for a long time. And the big tragedy here is that we were seeing real progress being made under John Kerry's leadership towards a two state solution. Now that’s a process that is being pulled apart at the moment. But we need to remember that the clock is ticking on this. There is only a finite amount of time in which a two state solution can work in the Middle East, and that time is running out now.

MICHAEL If we turn our attention to that Security Council campaign, how is it going, how many of those 193 countries have you secured for New Zealand support.

MURRAY Oh we never talk numbers, but I can say that New Zealand's got a good brand and reputation. I've been doing my share of miles to try and make sure that our case is well understood.

MICHAEL Do you think we're the front runner?

MURRAY Oh we're not the front runner, but we're up against two very big much better resourced competitors, Spain and Turkey. They’ve got many more missions and many more places, so we have to do the yards to make sure our candidature is understood, and appreciated. And that’s what I'm trying to do, it's what the Ministry is trying to do. And I can say that we're in as good a shape as we could reasonably expect to be at this stage.

MICHAEL You mentioned resources there, Australia put in about 30 million dollars I think it was to their campaign to get their seat. Is that what New Zealand is…

MURRAY Well not it's not, and I've made it clear that we actually don’t have a special budget for it, We're just doing more of what we normally do.

MICHAEL But you can say that the more of what you are doing is directly related to the bid, so there must be some sort of figure there …

MURRAY No it's inside our existing budget, and actually we in terms of our budget have been handing back money, you know 20 odd million a year, and it was a reduced budget to start with. So we're doing this on an oily rag if you like and we are a country that can't buy our way on to the Security Council, shouldn’t be seen to be trying. We need to use our assets, our assets are a good brand and reputation we've had over a long period of time, and we do have to compensate for our weaknesses by doing more visiting, having more people on the road.

MICHAEL You mention people on the road, the reputation, the weaknesses. Obviously MFAT has been found wanting somewhat over the case of this Malaysian Diplomat. Is New Zealand up to the task of a Security Council seat, because clearly there are some problems within the Ministry.

MURRAY Oh I think Mr Shearer and his colleagues are in danger of trivialising what is a very serious matter. This is a situation in which the New Zealand government was told that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was communicating to the Malaysian government our long held policy of seeking the waver of immunity in this case. We believe that was taking place. Was at the end of the process it became clear that the communications we'd been told were taking place were not carried out in the way that we'd expected. I've instigated a formal inquiry to make sure that we get to the bottom of that. I think you'll understand, when the New Zealand government's position isn't being communicated by the Ministry to another government in the way that we're told, that’s a serious issue and we can't have it. So we're going to make sure that we understand why, and how we can stop it happening in the future.

MICHAEL In this case, when will Muhammad Rizalman be back in New Zealand?

MURRAY Oh sometime soon, there's a legal process underway. Look the Malaysian Minister and Government, are acting completely on the basis that they can have faith in the New Zealand judicial system and the operation of the New Zealand government.

MICHAEL We understand that, but when will he - will he be here this month, will he be here next month?

MURRAY And there is a careful legal process. There's been a lot of loose discussion around this matter. The Malaysian government needs to have confidence that we're going to follow this issue through carefully, that the lawyers are going to be able to dot the I's and cross the T's, that’s what's going on right now.

MICHAEL So do you believe he will have a fair trial here?

MURRAY I've obviously told the Malaysian government that he's going to get a fair trial in New Zealand, and I'm doing my level best to make sure that’s the case, and that it's not prejudiced with a lot of loose talk.

MICHAEL Are you concerned that he might not?

MURRAY I'm concerned to ensure that people who are commenting on the matter leave it to the court.

MICHAEL And so given you've given them those assurances, when will he be back.

MURRAY Quite soon.

MICHAEL Which is weeks?

MURRAY Well this is a matter that the lawyers need to handle.

MICHAEL But what advice have you had then on when he will be back in New Zealand? Because it's critically important. Is this going to become an issue before the election or afterwards.

MURRAY It’s completely in the hands of the lawyers

MICHAEL So you have had no advice when he will be back in New Zealand?

MURRAY I've been told it's something the lawyers are conducting very carefully, and dotting the I's and crossing the T's, and that’s good enough for me.

MICHAEL Did you see the interview with Tania Billingsley?

MURRAY No.

MICHAEL Why not?

MURRAY Oh well I was overseas travelling, working to secure the Security Council seat you’ve just been referring to.

MICHAEL Many of these things are you know fortunately on the internet these days. Why did you not take a look at that?

MURRAY Oh look my job is here to try and make sure that the Malaysian Government can have confidence in our system. I'm not going to get tied up in a domestic debate, even though it's coming close to an election. I know why the Labour Party find it attractive, but we should not trivialise what is an important issue here.

MICHAEL I don’t think she was trivialising it, she said you know it was embarrassing and pathetic the way you were trying to blame officials for what happened. She called for your resignation. What is your response to that then?

MURRAY Well I simply said that I accepted responsibility for the Ministry's actions including the shortcomings of the Ministry's actions, and I was going to go through a thorough process to find out what had gone wrong, and going to address those issues. That’s exactly what I'm doing.

MICHAEL She looks at this in terms of a wider issue, in that the system simply doesn’t take sexual assault cases seriously. Do you think there is a problem in the system. Do we ignore these things?

MURRAY Look the Ministry clearly communicated with the Malaysian government on a basis that was different from the basis that was authorised by the New Zealand government. That’s a serious matter and we should just follow this through carefully, understand what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

MICHAEL You're ministerial review doesn’t actually call you or your office into account, it really is focused on MFAT. Do you expect you could end up under any criticism or any trouble because of that review?

MURRAY Look the reviewer will do whatever he wants to do in that respect. There's been no constraint based upon him, but the fact is I didn’t know what had happened here, and the fact that the Ministry was doing something that was different from what the government believed, and what it had told the government it was doing was something that we should inquire into and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

MICHAEL How do we believe that you didn’t open that email?

MURRAY Well I didn’t get the email. The assertion is that one of my staff who was travelling was copied in with an email after the event, and the fact is that an overworked staff member didn’t open an email until after the matter became a public issue, I think in the early part of July.

MICHAEL Is that good enough?

MURRAY Well I'm not going to criticise individuals on this. The fact is that there's a formal process that the Ministry should have used to communicate on this matter to me, and they didn’t use it. I can't expect that all of my staff are going to open every email when they're travelling in places like …

MICHAEL But emails that related to this individual is a serious case.

MURRAY There's a proper process for communicating with my office from the Ministry, and it wasn't followed.

MICHAEL Do you think if there are serious shortcomings that are found within this review, your resignation may be in order?

MURRAY Look I've said right from the beginning, it's not time to talk about resignations or accountability until we know what the facts are. We've appointed a very distinguished and senior former public servant to conduct a review, and Mr Whitehead deserves the opportunity to do that without undue interference from me or anyone else.

MICHAEL The head of the Protocol Division was recently appointed as the next Brazilian Ambassador. Will she still be taking on that role?

MURRAY Well obviously that’s something that will be looked at in the light of Mr Whitehead's review.

MICHAEL So she may not…

MURRAY Well I'm not saying that. I don’t know what's going to be in the review. We've got a proper process. I know people want to prejudge this issue, but it's my job to make sure that we don’t prejudge it, and that we allow a very senior public servant to conduct a review that people can have confidence in. As I say, it's a very serious matter when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicates on a basis to another government that is different from the one that the New Zealand Government's mandated, and we're certainly going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

MICHAEL If we can move to just a couple of other issues quickly, and finally Colin Craig's statements about the Lochinvar Station this week. Do they create an appearance offshore that New Zealand is xenophobic in your view?

MURRAY Oh look Mr Craig and others are going to have to take responsibility for their own comments. What I say is that New Zealand government's put in place some tighter rules.

MICHAEL In the foreign world that you deal in, does it damage our appearance internationally?

MURRAY The fact is that we have a set of rules. They apply to people from all other countries, and it's unfortunate when people decide to identify investors from one country and single them out for particular attention. I think that the same rules need to apply to all other countries, and where we depart from that sort of process, we do diminish our international credibility.

MICHAEL Just finally on Colin Craig. East Coast Bays, you could still pull out at the end of the month if the polls take a dive, can you rule out taking that step. Are you the candidate there?

MURRAY Well I had a campaign launch about two weeks ago. My billboards are up.

MICHAEL So no chance of you pulling out?

MURRAY Well look I've made it pretty clear that for a long time I intended to do what I've done in previous elections, which is campaign hard to win the confidence …

MICHAEL Can you say there is no chance of you pulling out of this race?

MURRAY Well as far as I'm concerned there's no chance of me pulling out of this race, but what I can also say is I've been saying that for months and no one's taken any notice. Perhaps now the Prime Minister has made a definitive statement people might just accept that we are campaigning hard to win East Coast Bays, and will continue to do so until election day.

MICHAEL Brilliant. Murray McCully thank you very much for your time.

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