3 July 2014
Charles de Gaulle once commented that politics were far too important to be left to the politicians. It appears our diplomats have adopted the same view about diplomacy, if the case of the disgraced Malaysian diplomat is any guideline.
By and large, we are well served by our public servants, and Ministers are usually extremely loyally supported, whatever their foibles. But when things go wrong, they often do so in a mighty way. I well recall seeing a former Prime Minister incandescent with rage after a comparatively junior official told him of plans to release adverse economic figures just a few days before an election. When the Prime Minister reminded him of this, this official arrogantly and utterly naively replied, “That is not my problem, Prime Minister.”
The same breathtaking dose of unreality seems to be behind MFAT’s Malaysian diplomat SNAFU. Whoever thought the “our chaps will talk quietly to your chaps” approach that appears to have been adopted was smart and sustainable, let along morally defensible, deserves their head read. Yet these are the same people who shudder visibly at the idea of politicians taking too hands-on a role in foreign policy formation because of its apparent subtlety and sensitivity, which leaves it far too important to be left to people who in Sir Robin Day’s infamous words are “mere here today, gone tomorrow politicians.”
Well, the case of the Malaysian diplomat has knocked any pretence of credibility that argument may have had, not just for six, but right out of the park and down the street. Diplomats of all people should not be letting down their political masters this way, let alone being so amoral when it comes to the instance of prosecuting a serious case like attempted rape.
Should we be altogether surprised? I venture to suggest not, sadly. The culture of many of our diplomats stems from the British Foreign Office. And it is not that many years ago that Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and possibly even Hollis were protected by the “club” because ‘decent chaps” could not be Soviet spies. Or that our own Paddy Costello was similarly protected.
It has been a week of bizarre events. First up, Labour said it would ensure new migrants did not live in Auckland. Short of ankle bracelets and leg irons, how on earth was it ever going to enforce such a crazy policy? Then came the Moa reincarnation scheme – prize winner for the most crackpot political idea of the year.
But while these two ideas smack of political lunacy and can be quickly dismissed as such, the Malaysian diplomat saga is more sinister: officials deliberately withholding information from Ministers and advising another country how to get around the law by claiming immunity to prevent a trial on one of the most serious criminal charges. Such behaviour, with so little regard for the victim, is simply unconscionable. Just as the diplomat is being extradited to face trial, so too should those responsible for this appalling state of affairs be held to full and proper account.
Authorised by Hon Peter Dunne, Parliament Buildings, Wellington