It is not common for the Prime Minister's office to refuse to supply the news media with embargoed copies of a statement or speech containing a major announcement.

However, requests by media organisations for an early copy of John Key's speech to Parliament confirming that New Zealand will be sending military personnel to Iraq to train local troops were rebuffed.

READ MORE
John Key's full statement to Parliament
Join the debate: Should NZ join the coalition against Islamic State?

Rather than enabling them to have news stories ready to go the moment the embargo was lifted, the media - like everyone else - would have to wait until the Prime Minister spoke in the House.

Advertisement

In adopting such an approach, Key was seeking to go over the heads of the media and talk directly to New Zealanders about the reasons why such a deployment is necessary without his rationale being analysed and criticised before the public had actually heard that rationale.

New Zealand will send a non-combat training mission with Australia to Taji Camp, north of Baghdad in Iraq - although it will not be a badged mission, says Prime Minister John Key. It would be reviewed after nine months and last no more two years. The total would be up to 143 New Zealand personnel.

That Key resorted to such a tactic is an indicator that on the question of whether and how New Zealand should contribute to multinational efforts to counter Isis, the Prime Minister is not really winning the debate.

An extraordinarily lengthy softening-up period has failed to do its job. If anything, the positions of opponents of the deployment have hardened.

Opinion polls show a slight majority of the public in favour of the deployment. - 49 per cent as against 43 per cent opposed on an average of two recent television polls. There is no upside in this deployment. Even if things go smoothly, the numbers favouring the mission are unlikely to rise. If the contingent strikes trouble, Key could quickly find himself on the wrong side of public opinion.

That is a position that he finds more uncomfortable than other leaders, such is the Prime Minister's unrelenting efforts to keep National anchored firmly in the mainstream of public opinion.

In Parliament, Key was Man Alone. Even Act - a party which is straight up and down about New Zealand needing to contribute to curry favour with traditional allies - is expressing reservations about the deployment.

Never mind Labour and the Greens. When the likes of Peter Dunne are vehemently opposed to such a course of action - and Winston Peters for that matter too - then Key really has reason to worry whether he has called this one right.

The essential problem is with the training role. No one has any confidence it will make even a skerrick of difference to what ultimately happens in Iraq.

Advertisement

If that is the case, the deployment becomes nothing more than a manufactured exercise in flag-waving designed to satisfy the Americans, rather than dealing to Isis. Surely the days when New Zealand was so compliant and so submissive to Washington's wishes are long over. But it seems not.

Debate on this article is now closed.