During National’s time on the Opposition benches between 1999-2008, few of it members or those of its ally A.C.T. dared to take a stand on foreign affairs. The insurgency in Iraq was escalating, and Afghanistan was not looking flash. One of those few was Murray McCully, as Opposition spokesperson for Foreign Affairs was one.
Although I disagreed with him on most of what he said, one had to respect his willingness to put his head above the proverbial parapet. There was even the odd moment when he was right. One such case was National criticizing a New Zealand telecommunications company for its dealings with Myanmar when it was very much still under the control of the military regime.
So, when Mr McCully took office as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2008, there was hope that some of the bravery he showed when Opposition spokesperson would manifest in decisions taken as Minister. Sadly for New Zealand’s overseas reputation, New Zealanders, and the country as a whole this seems to have been misplaced.
However there are a couple of bright spots. It is true that New Zealand did do well to secure a seat on the Security Council. This was enabled by our reputation for fairness and decency to our fellow human beings. It is also true that the Government admirably threw its weight behind former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s bid to become United Nations Secretary General – internal decision making among the Permanent 5 was something no candidate could really have certainty about. GRADE: A-.
Sadly the same cannot be said for how Mr McCully approached the conflicts raging in the Middle East. Mr McCully was entering the third year of his first term when the Syrian conflict started. New Zealand appeared to be reluctant to make a bold statement of any sort about them. The complete silence of New Zealand on the subject of the Yemen war being waged against that impoverished country by a much more powerful neighbour, whose Government and businessmen we have preferred to appease with grovelling agriculture deals than take a humane stand is as deafening as the bombs exploding. Only the resolutions pushed forward during our chairing the United Nations Security Council and the focus that was promised – and largely delivered on – stop me from giving Mr McCully a D. GRADE: C+
During this time, New Zealand has also watched its A.N.Z.A.C. partner Australia deteriorate significantly in terms of standing up for the principles of the A.N.Z.A.C. spirit. It was “family” under Prime Minister Julia Gillard when New Zealand went to help Australia after severe flooding in Queensland in January 2011, and vice versa during the Christchurch earthquake emergency starting six weeks later. But in that same time New Zealanders remained unable to have a path to citizenship in Australia whilst Australians have an assured path to N.Z. citizenship. National’s refusal to GRADE: D
Mr McCully’s management of his Ministry internally however has been nothing more than farcical. Indeed, though I regretfully cannot remember who made the rather apt statement, someone prominent in the blogosphere described his restructuring a few years ago as Machiavellian in nature. Certainly 300 jobs lost at the time is not a laughing matter, as this would have affected the ability of the Ministry to do high level research, provide support for New Zealanders overseas in emergencies and maintain the necessary diplomatic standards we expect. Word also has it Mr McCully is widely considered someone you do not want to cross by many in the National Party. GRADE: E
Mr McCully will leave politics when Parliament is dissolved for the 2017 General Election. It would take something quite major for any of the above grades to change, and with rumours abounding that he might lose his Ministerial warrant as early as Sunday, when Prime Minister Bill English changes his cabinet, I think this could be called final.