It was a shame that Barack Obama refused to allow any meaningful media opportunities on his trip to New Zealand but he had an excuse given that it was a private trip.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo had no such excuse. It was shameful that on a state visit he failed to present himself in some manner to the public of New Zealand.

When preparing for the visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade raised the issue of holding a joint press conference alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but the Indonesians declined.

Ardern will be too diplomatic to describe it as an insult, but it is one.


When New Zealand leaders visit other countries, they are expected to behave according to the protocols and values of that country. The same should apply for visitors to New Zealand.

Two leaders fronting together and talking about the relationship is an implicit display of respect for the other leader and country.

The opposite applies. To decline to do so is implicitly disrespectful to Ardern and New Zealand.

The Government needs to send a swift message to Mfat that such events for future VIP visits must be raised not by invitation but in the context of an expectation.

It need not be expressed in terms of compulsion but an obligation except for exceptional circumstances.

If Ardern does not make this clear now, Mfat will continue to present it as a take-it-or-leave-it option for the visiting country to dictate.

The Widodo visit followed a high-level visit the previous week from Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, again during which no press conference was organised.
These two examples should not set a pattern for the rest of her premiership.

Holding a joint public press event was an expectation for VIPs under both Helen Clark and John Key's leadership.

In 2001, when Clark was hosting the first Indonesia President to visit New Zealand in 29 years, Abdurrahman Wahid, he surprised everyone at their press conference by talking about the problems with corruption in his country's justice system, including the judiciary.

It was in the context of questions about justice for the killers of Private Leonard Manning, who was killed on patrol near the West Timor border.

Setting an expectation that VIPs front will definitely leave them open to questions about potentially sensitive areas, West Papua in the case of Widodo

But if they don't have the skill to handle those, maybe they should not be in politics.

It is not New Zealand or Mfat's job to protect VIPs from sensitive issues.