A National Party pledge to pay a multi-million dollar fine to allow the New Zealand cricket team to abandon their tour of Zimbabwe would be virtually writing an open cheque to Zimbabwe's repressive regime, the Government says.
The Black Caps are facing pressure to can their August tour which critics say should not go ahead because of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
A One News Colmar Brunton poll last night showed a massive 77 per cent in favour of cancelling the tour. Just 14 per cent wanted it to go ahead while 9 per cent said they did not know.
But despite what Prime Minister Helen Clark has called a groundswell of public opinion against the tour, the Black Caps have so far resisted the calls to can it.
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) says it has to meet commitments to take part in international tours.
Plus, if the cricketers do scrap the tour, they faces a fine of at least US$2 million ($2.89 million) under their International Cricket Council (ICC) touring agreement.
The Government has written to the ICC calling for an exception to the agreement due to Zimbabwe's gross human rights abuses. It has also said it will block the Zimbabwe team from touring here in December.
But National leader Don Brash said yesterday a National-led government would pay the fine, which he understood was "in the order of $2 million".
But under NZC's agreement that amount is the bare minimum, and compensation could run considerably higher once other factors such as TV rights are taken into account.
These have been estimated as "tens of millions" given that New Zealand and Zimbabwe is set to be joined in a tri-series of one-day internationals by India, which will have a huge television audience.
When pressed, Dr Brash said National would be prepared to talk to NZC about further liability beyond the minimum fine, but it would not write a "blank cheque".
Dr Brash said New Zealanders were predominantly opposed to the August tour and wanted it called off.
"The Zimbabwe regime is a seriously repressive regime. There are people starving. There are people having their homes bulldozed.
"I don't think New Zealanders want to be associated with playing cricket with a regime like that where the president of Zimbabwe is himself the patron of the cricket club."
Dr Brash said it was his understanding that the fine went to the ICC and not Zimbabwe's regime.
But Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff said compensation would eventually be passed on to Zimbabwe for any losses.
"With all other foregone profits, including international television rights, the payment demanded could be tens of millions of dollars."
National's promise to underwrite some of the costs would be an invitation to Zimbabwe to "pad out" any losses, he said.
It also undercut New Zealand's submission to the ICC, which said payments should not have to be made when tours were called off because of "savage human rights abuses".
"Dr Brash is effectively telling the ICC that New Zealand is willing to pay the money."
Dr Brash said National did not believe NZC should have to bear the cost of the fine.
National supported writing to the ICC and also supported the Government's moves to ban Zimbabwe from touring in December.
National did not support preventing the Black Caps from touring Zimbabwe if they chose.
The ICC, which has just completed its annual conference in London, has affirmed the Black Caps cannot use human rights as a reason to pull out of its August tour.
Mr Goff's hopes to lobby the ICC were dealt a blow by NZC, which did not even raise the Zimbabwe issue at the meeting.
The One News Colmar Brunton poll found 29 per cent believed it was up to the ICC to cancel the tour, 27 per cent believed it was the players' responsibility, while 27 per cent said it was up to the Government.
The poll questioned 500 people.