Transcript: McCully on The Nation

Published: Sat 10 Sep 2011 03:07 PM
Interviewed by SEAN PLUNKET
Sean We're talking about this week's Pacific Islands Forum and New Zealand's relationships with the region. Joining me in the studio is the Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Good morning Minister. Looking at this forum I do want to deal simply with Fiji, because even though perhaps there has been a reluctance to talk about it, it is the issue people are talking about. The readmission into those trade talks, and the announcement we got from Sayed-Kaiyum the Attorney General in Fiji, that they will begin voter registration early next year, surely this indicates that the current hard line position on sanctions has to change eventually?
Murray McCully – Foreign Affairs Minister
First can I say I don’t think Fiji is the issue, I think that there's a view amongst Pacific leaders that rather too much time has been spent on Fiji at recent forum meetings, desire to deal with some of the other pressing issues in the region, and that’s why you saw the result you did at this forum meeting. But it's true also there's a desire amongst forum, members to see the Pacific Way employed, to see engagement with Fiji, to see them no excluded from trade and economic discussions, like the Pacer Plus discussions. I've made it clear from the beginning that New Zealand's been very relaxed about the idea of Fijian officials being part of the Pacer Plus discussions. Quite frankly wouldn’t worry me too much if we saw them involved at a more senior level as well.
The answer to your last question is that if the regime would get rid of the emergency regulations and stop the censorship of the press and stop taking the trade union leadership down to the barracks or the Methodist Church leadership down to the barracks for a bit of a sorting out, then we'd probably have something to talk about.
Sean So voter registration isn't going to cut it with you?
Murray Voter registration is important, and I've said to the Fiji regime directly and I've said to others in the region, New Zealand stands ready to offer support with the census, with boundary distribution arrangements, with all of the things that go into preparations for an election if we can see that happening. But of course we would want to see free and pure elections. We want to be assured that all political stakeholders are able to participate, but a starting point for that surely must be an indication that there are basic freedoms in place. So the emergency rigs need to go, there needs to be press freedom, and the practise of rounding up the church leaders and taking them down to the barracks has gotta stop. But if we can get to that point certainly we've got some confidence that things can be moved forward.
Sean Are New Zealand and Australia harder line on this than the rest of the Forum, and I'm wondering also whether or not, particularly from the Americans, you're getting some suggestion that if we're not kinder to Fiji the Chinese certainly will be.
Murray No I don’t think New Zealand and Australia are the hardest line in the Forum, I think there are leaders like the Prime Minister of Samoa who are very firm in their position on this, and others as well. So I think New Zealand and Australia are in a pretty reasonable place.
Sean Kiribati?
Murray Well I think both Kiribati and Tuvalu are very exposed here, they are very dependent upon Fiji as an economic hub, they have a lot of students based in Fiji.
Sean Which is why it's an important issue to them.
Murray Yeah it is, and we're quite sensitive to their position, and of course they are as a result very much attuned to Fiji's situation.
Sean Would you be happy to see those two countries suffer economically and some of them would argue they are suffering economically because of the hard line position that New Zealand takes.
Murray I don’t think you can argue that. I think that in Kiribati's case there's been suffering for a long time, it's the biggest humanitarian challenge within the region, and we've increased our aid spend there from about three million dollars three years ago to about 30 million this year, and leveraged the Wall Bank and the ADB to spend about another 77 million trying to deal with some of those humanitarian challenges. In Tuvalu yes they’ve got some challenges at the moment but not Fiji related, they're challenges they need to deal with with our help, and we're trying to help them.
Sean Boy it was a busy forum this year, people from literally all over the world, Ban Ki-moon from the UN, the European and this massive American delegation, also the Chinese. What is it about the Pacific right now that means the rest of the world is so interested?
Murray Well I think we have a significant number of votes in international fora, that’s always attractive for a start. I think also there was a special character about the forum this year. There was always going to be a level of interest that was above the normal, if we could coincide the Rugby World Cup opening match between New Zealand and Tonga and the forum meeting itself. So the post forum dialogue on the Friday which brought together the partners, you know china, the EU, US, etcetera and the opening match of the World Cup, as always going to make this a special occasion. We went to some trouble to invite the Secretary General of the United Nations and the President of the European Union Commission, and these people act like a magnet for others to follow.
Sean And in fact the rugby team from Bataan I understand was here?
Murray Yes indeed and look a large number of people who graced us with their presence, and we tried to make them all feel very welcome and able to conduct the sort of meetings that they came here to conduct.
Sean Is it also an indication Minister that as geopolitics change, particularly economically in the States, some would say is in trouble, and we're seeing China continue to be strong and rising, that if the battleground for hearts and minds geopolitically, the Pacific is one of the front lines of that battle, for if you like dominance or influence between China and the US?
Murray Well I think there's been obviously a lot of discussion about that, I think Colin James offered some reflections on that with which I wouldn’t disagree. I think that this is the Asia Pacific century. We see our geography here which has been always our disadvantage strategically for most of our history, is now our advantage. We used to be very far away from the wealthy markets of Europe and now we're very close to the increasingly wealthy middle class markets in Asia, not just in China, but throughout South East Asia and further abroad. And that is something that the Pacific countries, not just New Zealand, need to think about. We have our opportunities, yes there's a big fishery zone there amongst the Pacific nations, and they get an insufficient return and we need to do something about it.
SeanIf we look at the amount of aid per capita that goes into the Pacific nations and it is huge, part of the Waikehe Declaration or if you like the spirit of it, is the idea that aid should no longer be a hang out, but a hand up. Do you think that transition is going well and do you take some credit for that, given the battle you've had with aid agencies since you took office?
MurrayWell look I've used that expression, a hand up not a hand out many times myself in trying to initiate a debate about a shift in direction here. I'm not gonna claim any credit yet because this stuff is terribly hard to do on the ground, and we haven’t got runs on the board that I'm satisfied with yet, but I think we have managed to start the constructive focus, and unashamedly at this Forum Meeting we put on the table the natural assets of the region and said let's try and focus on how we do something constructive with these assets, how we can try and build some value and some jobs amongst Pacific countries, for the people who've got these opportunities. So fisheries, tourism, agriculture, horticulture, those were up in lights. And the satisfying thing to me over the last two and a half years or so has been that this reflects the ambitions of Pacific leaders and Pacific nations themselves. They actually want a hand up not a hand out.
Sean The other issue that is said to be the biggest issue facing the Pacific and many of its nations, is climate change. You haven’t mentioned it today, do you agree with that analysis or not?
Murray The other thing we've gotta be careful here. There's a lot of lofty stuff talked about climate change at international conferences and big funds set up that no one ever seems to access, and I've said let's try and get a bit practical about this. What is the most significant thing we can do about climate change within our region? Which also addresses one of the biggest economic stresses on Pacific economies, and that is to deal with the issue of renewable energy. All of the nations, the small nations of the South Pacific are almost wholly dependent on electricity that is generated from imported oil, from diesel. It costs seven or eight times there what it costs New Zealanders to buy their electricity, and we wonder why they have a problem with their balance of payments, and a problem with getting private sector businesses up and running. And again over the last few years we've seen book shelves around the Pacific groaning under the weight of reports on renewable energy. And what we've tried to do is say look, let's get practical, let's get some of these projects up and running, and we're doing that now.
Sean Last issue, and a small issue, but one which quite literally has cost people their lives recently, West Papua, and the desire by people there to have some form of independence. Ban Ki-moon has actually said he thinks the UN should look at the West Papua issue. Where are we at on that, and has the Forum done enough?
Murray Well I think the Forum probably is taking a fairly careful approach to a very complex issue. New Zealand supports the special autonomy law that’s been put in place by Indonesia in relation to Papua. We obviously are taking a close interest in developments there, and are trying to target some of our development assistance there. It's a topic that I raised with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, who again was one of the heavyweights who came down to be part of our post forum discussions. I raised that issue with him, and we had a very frank but very constructive discussion about it.
Sean Alright so what? We wait and see?
Murray No we think progress needs to be made, but progress is being made in relation to the special autonomy law there.
Sean Minister, thank you very much for talking Forum. There's been another big event obviously which you’ve mentioned and we are going to be dealing with that in a moment.
Sean Well New Zealand's launched the 7th Rugby World Cup with an expected win over Tonga at Eden Park. The game followed a spectacular 20 minute opening ceremony in front of about 60,000 fans, but transport chaos and big problems in Downtown Auckland, marred what was supposed to be a day of celebration for the whole nation. Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully is back with us now. Well Graham Henry said 6 out of 10 for the team, what do you rate that Minister?
Murray McCully – Rugby World Cup Minister
Oh I think that parts of it get something close to 8 out of 10 and some bits get 2 or 3, and I think what we've gotta be careful about is to identify the particular areas of challenge and make sure that for the six weeks ahead we get it right.
Sean Alright well you'll admit then Friday night it wasn't right in large part, certainly public transport.
Murray I think there are two issues here. Clearly the public transport, the trains were an issue, and the Auckland Transport Authorities are going through their formal processes now, but I'll be taking a very close interest in that, discussed it with Mayor Len Brown last night, and will be keeping in touch.
Sean Well what did Mayor Brown tell you?
Murray Well he obviously is feeling very concerned about the way in which things worked last night and there are some genuine issues there that need to be looked at. Secondly there's – I think it's fair to say that down on Queens Wharf where they could control the numbers things were great. Outside of Queens Wharf where the numbers were not controlled there are a range of questions that need to be answered, and they are being asked. I spent some time down there late on Friday night and the small hours of Saturday morning with the Police leadership involved. I spent some time with the Deputy Commissioner.
Sean What were their experiences like?
Murray Well they actually were very balanced and I thought very professional about what they'd seen. They pointed out that they had probably 150,000 people down in that space, that it was crowded, that overwhelmingly people had a good time, and were well behaved, but there were some areas where for example screens broke down, where they had some challenges. They dealt with those challenges in my view very professionally.
Sean They felt they were adequately resourced the Police?
Murray Yes I think the Police felt that there were a large number of people, more than should have been in the space, but I think they felt quite comfortable about their management of the situation.
Sean We saw a man there in Amanda's clip who's paid good money, a lot of money for his ticket, couldn’t get to the game. The Herald's suggesting two to three thousand people couldn’t make the match.
Murray No I think that from the Rugby New Zealand people who I've talked to since the game, we may see some hundreds of people that had paid for tickets that couldn’t get there.
Sean And what will you do for them?
Murray Well that’s a matter that’s being looked at by the relevant people at the moment. Can I say this to you? This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in New Zealand. Overwhelmingly people did what they were supposed to do. To the extent that we need to make some changes to the systems or to the way in which we do things we'll look at that. But what I want to emphasise, this is a team effort. We want to ensure that all of the various agencies continue to work together, the review we're gonna do is going to be very constructively focused. We're not gonna go round shooting people because we need everyone to work really hard to get this….
Sean But would it be fair to say, that if we looked at say what went on inside the stadium and the spectacle of the opening ceremony as the forward pack, they delivered plenty of ball, but it got dropped somewhere out in the backline.
Murray I think that’s probably quite a good analogy, but not the whole of the backline, just one or two places in the back line, and that’s where we need to put our focus.
Sean Minister, the other thing is, this country is packed with overseas journalists who are going to be judging us on this. Are you expecting for a few days to wear it, to cop it, to have some people saying chaos in Auckland and paint a negative picture of New Zealand which is of course the last thing you wanted?
Murray No look my sense is that the international media who are quite experienced at these events, overwhelmingly are going to report this as an event that’s been highly successful so far, but with some problems where our systems have been tested and found to be wanting, and the test for us now is to make sure that we identify those areas quite surgically, that we work with the people who need to make those areas work, and ensure that we deliver a better result going forward.
Sean A large part of this whether by intent or not, was the idea of Party Central, that if you couldn’t get to the game at Eden Park you could share in the joy of the Rugby World Cup by going down to the waterfront. What we're hearing from you now is that in fact it only has a limited capacity and not everyone is going to be able to do that. Is it a case now of switching to a new strategy where you tell people to stay away from Party Central?
Murray No, well not in a general sense, but there were some signs up for example last night telling people if they were coming to town, which parts of the central city were full and where they should go. But clearly that wasn't effective enough. What we do need to remember is that last night was very unusual. What we're going to see over the next few days are some very serious questions asked for the two or three other occasions when Downtown Auckland is going to be very full.
Sean Who are you going to be wanting answer from, and can you be specific about agencies or officials?
Murray Yes I can, I mean the Auckland Transport Agencies clearly are doing some review work and the Mayor is obviously taking a close interest in that process himself. We have through our parliament given the Rugby World Cup Authority and myself some special powers to deal with things during the Rugby World Cup if we need to. We're taking the view that we want the parties to work together constructively and cooperatively and that’s the approach we'll take over the following days.
Sean And your advice to the people who didn’t get to the game last night because of the chaos?
Murray Well I'm sure if they purchased a ticket and couldn’t get to the game they’ll be making themselves known and the appropriate commercial arrangements can be considered by those who have got an obligation.
Sean Okay, are you going to apologise to them?
Murray No I'm not. What I'm gonna say is that the system last night dropped the ball in two respects, in the public transport front and in terms of the way in which it coped with things around Quay Street. We are going to get that fixed. We are going to go through a proper process of understanding why the problems occurred and how they can be sorted out. But we want to do so in a way that enables all of the people who need to work with us constructively for the next six weeks, to continue to do so.
Sean And finally Minister, what did you think of the game?
Murray Well I would think Graham Henry nailed it. We need to regard this as a good opening effort and I'm hoping that we're gonna see the intensity that the crowd brought to the situation lift the team over the coming games.
Sean Alright, so could do better, on all sorts of fronts?
Murray Well I think we're all in the same space here, but hey this is a big gig and it's gonna take us a while to make sure that we get everything right.
Sean Minister I thank you very much indeed for your time.

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