Hungarian correspondence over PM's jibe kept secret

By Kate Shuttleworth

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Paul Estcourt

A Labour Party request for correspondence from the Government of Hungary after comments from Prime Minister John Key criticising Hungarian troops in Afghanistan has been declined.

The request under the Official Information Act had asked for copies of all correspondence from the Government of Hungary and its representatives relating to Mr Key's comments on the Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff made the request to Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully also asking for any departmental/ministerial advice on Mr Key's comments.

Mr McCully's office declined to release the information under 6(a) and 6(b) of the Act, saying it would prejudice the international relations of New Zealand and there was no departmental or ministerial advice on the matter to release.

In August, after two New Zealand soldiers were killed, Mr Key said at a post-Cabinet press conference the New Zealand Defence Force would extend its patrols beyond its borders of Bamiyan Province to fill a gap left by Hungarian troops.

Asked about the claim that Hungarian troops did not patrol after nightfall, Mr Key said: "As far as I'm aware, the Hungarians don't go out at night. Not in Afghanistan anyway - they might in Budapest.''

Honorary Consul-General of Hungary Klara Szentirmay said after the comments that they did not reflect the good working relationship between New Zealand and Hungarian troops.

Mr Goff said Mr Key's comments were ill-considered and had prejudiced New Zealand's international relations with Hungary.

"The real irony was that the request was turned down on the grounds that releasing it would prejudice the international relations of New Zealand.

"John Key's disparaging remarks were widely reported in Hungary. His reflections on the courage of that country's soldiers caused a level of public anger that would only have been topped in New Zealand if someone had said the same of our troops.''

Mr Key did not apologise for his comments.

"Slights like these are long remembered. They are hugely damaging to our international relationships and won't help New Zealand's bid for support for election to the UN Security Council in 2014,'' Mr Shearer said.

- NZ Herald

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