PM: "A Bittersweet Weekend for New Zealand" - Press Conference
6th Aug, 2012
By Mark P. Williams
Click for big version.
Today the Prime Minister spoke of a bittersweet weekend for the country following the successes for sports men and women in the London Olympic games unfortunately coinciding with the tragic deaths on Saturday night of two young New Zealand soldiers in Bamyan province, Afghanistan. The PM congratulated New Zealand Olympic athletes and extended his thoughts to the families of the deceased soldiers.
The PM then briefly outlined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Lance Corporals Rory Patrick Malone and Pralli Durrer killed while aiding Afghan NDS, under attack by insurgents after being ambushed. He added that the dangers faced by New Zealand soldiers was reinforced by an attack on a New Zealand base earlier today (NZ time) which did not result in any casualties.
The PM said the flags on the Parliament forecourt would fly at half-mast today in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice made by Lance Corporals Malone and Durrer, and would again fly at half-mast on the day of their funerals. He indicated that his diary for this week would be subject to change depending on when their remains were repatriated.
The PM then took questions on subjects such as the Waitangi Tribunal decision and the NZDF role in Afghanistan.
In light of the Minister of Maori Affairs being unhappy with the decision of the Waitangi Tribunal, and Iwi leaders demanding the Maori Party walk away from National, the PM was asked whether he was expecting a "frosty reception" from the Maori Party this evening. He promptly responded with a flat "No".
The PM was probed several times over the timetable given by the government to receive its "truncated, interim report" from the Waitangi Tribunal. Several questioners sought to clarify whether the pressurised timetable given were a breach of "good faith" by the Crown in respect to the proper functioning of the Tribunal. The PM responded that the Crown were very confident that they were following the right and proper process.
The PM was asked about the recent poll which suggested that most New Zealanders did not want to buy shares from the partial assets sales. He responded that the poll indicated that 40% of New Zealanders would be interested and that those numbers were quite high and so therefore the public was quite supportive of the sale.
On the subject of the threat to New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan, the PM was pressed quite closely over whether there were significantly greater dangers to NZDF personnel at present and what response he thought would be appropriate.
He was questioned as to whether New Zealand troops would be taking on duties in areas which ought to be under the purview of Hungarian forces and whether it was wise to be expanding the involvement of New Zealand forces so close to their withdrawal date.
The PM was asked what measures he thought the Afghan President Hamid Karzai was taking to tackle corruption and whether New Zealand would make an appeal to address corruption. He responded that these were separate issues and he saw no reason to make such an appeal.
The PM was asked several times whether the recent developments meant that the NZDF would be sending NZSAS troops back into Afghanistan, or deploying more soldiers from other units in response to the situation. The PM ruled out redeploying the SAS but was very reluctant to commit himself to ruling out further troop commitments when pressed, saying that he would not go into all of the options that the government and NZDF would look at; he said that the NZDF's "radius of activities" might expand.
The PM was asked whether he thought New Zealand was in Afghanistan for the right reasons, given that some critics have suggested that it is a matter of attempting to increase diplomatic closeness to the US. He said that it would be a long stretch to suggest that Helen Clarke's government had gone into Afghanistan to increase ties with the USA.
The PM was pressed more closely on whether his term "radius of activities" constituted an extension of NZDF activities in Afghanistan. He said that his term did not mean that and would not elaborate further.
Back on the subject of the Waitangi Tribunal, the PM was asked if he was concerned about the suggestion that the Maori Party might take a nation-wide, pan-Iwi response to the partial assets sales plans. He responded that this was not historically how Maori rights and interests were dealt with since these normally proceeded on a case-by-case basis through direct negotiation river-by-river and Iwi-by-Iwi. He emphasised that tonight's meeting with the Maori Party was not necessarily to reach an agreement between National and the Maori Party.
Finally, on a more light-hearted note, the PM was asked if he had a response to Statistics NZ ranking New Zealand's performance in the Olympics at number two behind Jamaica in terms of head of population to medals won; the PM said: offer residency to Usain Bolt.