Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Stick to the script: Say nothing

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Whatever the event, NZ’s man stands ready to offer a well-worn response.

Illustration / Anna Crichton.
Illustration / Anna Crichton.

On TVNZ's Q&A show on Sunday, Justice Minister Judith Collins said Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully were alternately "ropeable", "extremely concerned" and "very angry" about the Malaysian diplomat affair.

The way Collins described it, one pictured McCully and Key stamping around their offices, barking orders at underlings, getting really fired up about never being told anything, and having to carry the can for incompetents.

They didn't look quite as bloody annoyed as all that as they went about their holidays (Key) and long haul travel (McCully) this week. But assuming they really are inwardly seething, what will be the outcome of all this anger, apart from lots of hurt feelings at Mfat?

It seems no matter what the issue - civil war, pestilence, or a stolen chocolate bar - McCully's modus operandi is to issue a press release so insipid it makes the phone directory look like top-shelf literature.

Even as he contemplates the world at a time of huge upheaval and change, McCully's absolute favourite exhortation, from our little nation to the rest of the planet, is that everyone please "exercise restraint". This can be gleaned from the number of times these words appear when McCully - currently campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council - is giving his two cents worth on the world's hotspots.

Just a few days ago he spoke out about the pounding Israel is delivering to Gaza. "New Zealand urges both sides to show restraint and to prevent any further civilian casualties," said he, in a statement of the stunningly bland.

No one appears to be listening. Nor did the Ukrainians and Russians, when in March McCully called on "all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from any action that could escalate tensions".

Just before Christmas, the minister decided to mix it up a bit, congratulating Thais on their ability to show restraint, rather than exercising it. In general, he's been a dab hand at the lukewarm lambasting. Egypt was put on notice when violent protests racked the country after the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood: "The New Zealand Government continues to urge all parties to exercise restraint," said he.

McCully has also taken on the mullahs of Iran, urging authorities there to "show restraint", as post-election protests escalated in Tehran after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory a few years back. "[U]se of force will only deepen the anger being expressed by many Iranians," he added.

And I'm sure the hand of McCully was all over a joint press release by him and his Australian and Dutch counterparts, when they addressed protesters looking to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. The clue? "Our governments jointly call upon all parties to exercise restraint and to ensure that safety at sea is the highest priority."

A modern management maxim that CEOs, ministers and anyone else in positions of power seem to have taken to heart is that you have to keep communicating ceaselessly - even when you've got little to say. It ticks the boxes.

The unfortunate thing is that Murray McCully has some of the most important issues of all to make comment on. His output so far, unable to depart from the script, gives some clue as to why dealing with reality right under his nose is proving so challenging.

- NZ Herald

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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