Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The sheep files

Two weeks ago, John Key tried to blame Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe on Labour, claiming in Question Time that:

The second point I would make is that these issues are issues that have actually been dealt with by successive Governments. I would take this opportunity to encourage the member to speak to Annette King and Phil Goff about the warnings that they received on these issues when they were in Government and about the actions that they were looking to take. He might be amazingly surprised to hear the answers.

He then repeatedly blocked release of the Cabinet papers he thought would be so damaging. But today Labour unilaterally released them (though with purported OIA redactions). And despite McCullay's rather desperate attempts to claim otherwise, they show nothing of the sort. What they do show is:
  • Following the 2003 ban, the Labour government attempted to negotiate an agreement with Saudi Arabia to address animal welfare issues around live exports, similar to that negotiated by Australia.
  • In August 2006, MAF was directed to review its policies on live exports. This meant that the agreement with Saudi Arabia could not be finalised, as it would be effectively revoked if a ban was put in place, "prompt[ing] questions about New Zealand's good faith as a negotiator and trading partner".
  • The review recommended a ban on live exports for slaughter for animal welfare considerations and to protect New Zealand's international reputation (and exports to much bigger markets in Europe and North America). MFAT was quite cold-blooded about this: they did the maths and concluded that live sheep slaughter exports were worth only ~$5 million a year, a tiny fraction of the sheep meat export market ($2.4 billion), and much less than the potential cost of a consumer boycott in key markets. (The lesson here: if you want to change NZ government policy, run a smear campaign attacking agricultural exports in Europe. Climate change campaigners take note!)
  • There were "international legal and policy risks" around this. All detail is (unfortunately) redacted, but its pretty obvious: it could be challenged via the WTO, and the Saudis might be upset that the NZ government had changed its mind. There's no suggestion of a specific legal risk from affronted Saudi businessmen with investments in New Zealand, and certainly no suggestion of paying them millions of dollars to go away.

In short, John Key constructed a crude Muldoonist smear, and got caught. It's quite illustrative of what sort of a politician he is - one that we should not trust to lead our country.