Cabinet papers show no Saudi sheep legal threat

Author
Barry Soper and Newstalk ZB Staff ,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Jun 2015, 3:19PM
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Cabinet papers show no Saudi sheep legal threat

Author
Barry Soper and Newstalk ZB Staff ,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Jun 2015, 3:19PM

Cabinet papers from the Labour Government show no legal threat from the Saudi Arabian businessman who was compensated by more than $11 million after the live-sheep-for-slaughter trade was axed.

The Government maintains the deal was reached after the threat Labour knew about and was a fraction of what they could have had to pay.

Prime Minister John Key maintains that's the case but wouldn't remove the redactions from the papers to prove it.

"The redactions are made by the officials and I can't override them."

When challenged on that point by Newstalk ZB Political Editor Barry Soper on the basis of being the government and it being a simple matter to override the redactions of officials, Mr Key responded "I can't because we rely on the officials to provide advice on the legal risks that New Zealand now faces."

Earlier today Labour followed through on its threat and released cabinet papers the Government failed to publish on the Saudi sheep scandal.

MP David Parker made public documents relating to advice received by the last Labour government.

"It's plain that the claim that these papers somehow justify a $4 million facilitation payment plus $6 million being wasted on a model farm in a desert, plus $1 million being spent to fly sheep to Saudi Arabia on Singapore Airlines - the claim is not made out."

Labour’s Export and Trade spokesperson David Parker has said it's now three weeks since the Prime Minister and Murray McCully claimed that former papers from the last Labour government proved that the $4 million facilitation payment to the Al Khalaf group, the $6 million model farm and the $1 million dollar sheep flight were justified, and were to settle a claim for $20m to $30m by the Saudi group.

“National’s excuse was always nonsense. The actions of the prior Labour government were legal, and indeed renewed twice by National in 2010 and 2013. No claim had ever been filed by Al Khalaf, and would have expired under the Limitation Act even if it had been real."

Labour has been pushing for the release of cabinet papers, from its time in government, in an attempt to show the Prime Minister was wrong when he said Labour was aware of the potential for legal action over the halting of live sheep exports.

However the Government holds a different view.

Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Todd McClay says they show the last Labour Government acted in bad faith in its dealing with the Saudis.

The government has so far twice prevented them from being tabled in Parliament and Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee is refusing to say they'll be free of redactions when finally made public under the Official Information Act.

Brownlee said it was not a question of the government blocking the release of the papers, it's to do with conventions about their release.

"There is a process," he said. "It is important it's followed because it does have ramifications for the way in which other papers might be dealt with at various times."

But Parker doesn't buy that argument. He believes there's no excuses given the government claimed 12 days ago the papers could be released in a matter of days.

"The delay is all theirs and they should be ashamed of themselves," Parker said.

Prime Minister John Key has been defending foreign minister Murray McCully over a payment of more than $11 million that went to Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf for a "demonstration farm" in the Saudi desert that New Zealand officials do not have access to.

McCully maintained the payment was made to avoid a legal threat from Al Khalaf after live sheep exports overseas were cancelled under the previous Labour government. But McCully was forced to admit the potential threat had been withdrawn more than a year before the payment was made.

In Parliament yesterday, Cabinet Minister Todd McClay said no Saudi parties participated in an evaluation panel that looked at tender proposals for the controversial farm.

But that position appeared to be contradicted after David Parker tabled an expression of interest document relating to the project

"Page 11 records that evaluation of final proposals will be undertaken by representatives of MFAT, NZTE and interested Saudi parties together," it read.