We will not campaign on our chequebook. So said Foreign Minister Murray McCully two years ago in a speech on New Zealand's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. But this week, his ministry has entertained voting delegates at Queenstown, treating them to sightseeing, shopping and a jet boat ride. They may even have seen some "sustainable agriculture", which was the explanation suggested by a press secretary to the Prime Minister when they knew a television news crew had filmed 11 UN diplomats and their support staff enjoying our hospitality.

The explanation was among briefing points on a number of issues in an email accidentally sent to the Newstalk ZB newsroom this week. It was not the Government's best day.

Return flights from New York and an all-expenses paid visit to New Zealand might not count as chequebook campaigning by the standards of some UN members. This country, we hope, would not contemplate tying votes to foreign aid projects. But the junket is more than taxpayers might approve for its true purpose, as the Government obviously knows. Why else did it try to keep it quiet?

Hospitality on this scale is fine for tourism promotions but what does it have to do with our case for a term on the Security Council? Countries whose votes we are courting are surely interested in our position on issues and problems of concern to them, not the attractions of Queenstown, splendid as they are. It would make more sense for all our campaign cheques to be written for McCully and his diplomats to visit the voting countries.

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No doubt they have done so. McCully's travel bill for this purpose amounted to $212,609 in the three months to last September, nearly a quarter of the cost of all ministerial trips overseas in that period. The time and effort that diplomats put into these Security Council seats is extraordinary. This campaign started as long ago as 2004 under Helen Clark. It will have been running 10 years by the time it comes to a vote in October. And if we win a seat, we will occupy it for just two years. Why do they bother?

It is not as though the non-permanent members have much power. Any action the Security Council wants to take is liable to need the unanimous support of the five permanent members, the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, who each have a veto.

McCully is pitching New Zealand's case as a "fair minded and constructive country" offering other UN members confidence that the Council will listen to them if anything of concern to their region comes on to its agenda.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, David Shearer, has been equally committed to the campaign. Shearer was a UN worker in Uganda last time New Zealand held a seat on the council. It is "a very big deal," he says. "It's the possibility of having New Zealand values and sense of fair play projected on a world stage."

The UN is a strange place, running on diplomatic rites and status recognition that mean little to people outside. It was not worth the Queenstown treat.