Fancy footwork on world stage
Just as everyone began to turn their minds to it, this year’s election campaign was blown off the front pages last week by the downing of Flight MH17, allegedly by Russian separatists, and the carnage in Gaza.
Amid the outpouring of sympathy for the victims, the diplomatic niceties were carefully observed. Prime Minister John Key, for instance, praised his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott for the forthright way he denounced the Russians, without using the same language himself.
We retain hopes, after all, of clinching a trade deal with Russia.
On Gaza, even trickier footwork was required. New Zealand has spent a lot of money on its bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
Turkey and Spain are our rivals, and only two contenders will be elected. One selling point in our campaign is that New Zealand would allegedly offer a pluckily independent voice on international conflicts.
There’s some truth to the claim – in 1994, we used our temporary Security Council seat to call for armed UN intervention to stop the Rwanda genocide.
Gaza has demanded a similar scale of response. Several UN facilities have been bombed and shelled by Israel, who – in the opinion of many observers – has violated the Geneva Convention provisions forbidding targeting civilians, and the collective punishment of entire populations.
With the world’s TV screens full of images of medical centres being destroyed, whole neighbourhoods flattened and children slaughtered as they sought refuge in UN schools, any country angling for a Security Council post has needed to be seen and heard from.
Turkey, the acknowledged frontrunner in New Zealand’s UN bid, hasn’t minced its words. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointedly and controversially likened Israel’s actions to those of Adolf Hitler.
Luckily for New Zealand, though, its other rival, Spain, is one of Israel’s few staunch friends in Europe. Thus, the press releases on Gaza from Spain and New Zealand were almost interchangeable – both called for restraint, peace talks and a twostate solution.
New Zealand also contributed $ 250,000 to rebuilding Gaza. Given the Israeli blockade on cement products, this could prove difficult to use as intended.
Meanwhile, Labour leader David Cunliffe was left spinning his wheels. Labour needs a strong late run to make up ground on National, yet Cunliffe was reduced to praising the Key government for its handling of the Flight MH17 and Gaza issues.
All year, Labour has proven itself unable of capturing public attention for the right reasons. It has released major policies on preschool learning, education, the Canterbury rebuild etc. Simultaneously though, it has disastrously distracted itself – and the public – with gender apologies, talk of reincarnated moa, and skiing holidays.
Last week, Labour was at it again. While the Government conducted serious foreign policy, Labour was complaining about TVNZ’s choice of Mike Hosking, a presenter with a track record of partisanship, to chair the leaders’ debates. To TVNZ, this was a commercial decision.
Presumably, the presenter who had rescued Seven Sharp had been picked in the hope he might make the political debates palatable to a wider audience.
By making Hosking an issue, Labour deflected public attention away, yet again, from its credentials as a credible alternative government.