McCully more mouth than trousers

by Jake Quinn

Yesterday Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully released cabinet papers relating to the government’s decision to change the institutional arrangements, mandate, and policy settings of NZAID.

The content of the papers suggest a gap between Cabinet and it’s Minister of Foreign Affairs or a gap between reality and his interpretation of it.

The papers (analysed here) seem to suggest that the Minister overcooked his announcements last week on the issue; as we were (almost) led to believe that NZAID was being kicked for touch and that ‘poverty alleviation’ was a thing of the past.

So what’s in the papers that says otherwise? Well, NZAID will, as indicated, lose its semi-autonomous status created in 2001 by Labour (as part of a pre-election deal with Alliance) which was designed to keep the aid budget away from mischievous politicians and their wicked ways, however, as Gordon Campbell explains:

And this is the surprise element – it [NZAID] will retain its name, its separate identity and budget allocation, plus its focus on gender, human rights and environmental factors in aid delivery, and plus its capacity to hire in the aid experts that it feels it needs to do its job.

And rather than giving it the boot in favour of cheaper tickets to the pacific islands, the papers state that New Zealand’s aid programme will continue to pursue the cause of poverty reduction.

Well isn’t that a nice surprise. So why did we need to get all uppity about that in the first place Murray?

Gordon suggests that the decision to hold back the cabinet papers for a week was to allow some breathing space between McCully’s strongly worded speech on the 1st and the release of the more reasonably toned cabinet papers:

The fact it has taken an entire week – a long time in politics, and in the media cycle – can be read as an indication of McCully’s reluctance to allow his speech be readily contrasted with Cabinet’s restraint, and its reluctance to throw the aid baby out with the ideological bathwater.

So why the difference? What is the political imperative of beating up on NZAID publicly to then go on and err, not really beat them up so much. Perhaps appearance is more important than reality when it comes to the politics of ‘downsizing’ the public service and Wellington’s bureaucracy.

[UPDATE: Labour’s Grant Robertson picks up the ball here in a post titled “Which Murray to believe”]