The Soap Box: Woolly spin from Nats over Saudi sheep

Barry Soper ,
Publish Date
Friday, 19 June 2015, 5:25AM
Foreign Minister Murray McCully (Getty Images)
Foreign Minister Murray McCully (Getty Images)

Jokes about Kiwis and sheep abound and for those of us who're sensitive souls, they're rather tiresome.

For our Foreign Minister Muzza McCully it's no joke and as he flew back into the country last night, after basking in foreign climes for the past three weeks, he would have been hoping the Saudi sheep saga would have slipped from the political radar. Fat chance.

Labour has kept the issue bubbling along and the fact that he hasn't been around to answer the many questions about it doesn't mean they'll go away. They're now calling it Operation Desert Storm, bleating about the high death rate of lambs in the Saudi desert on the farm that was meant to be a model for New Zealand agriculture.

That's the farm that we've kitted out and stocked, at a cost of more than seven million bucks, along with farming out a four million buck "facilitation" payment to the disgruntled Saudi businessman Hmood Al Khalaf, who was hosed off at the last Labour Government's axing the sheep-for-slaughter shipments to the Kingdom. His frustration, led to the compo payment, which McCully told us was cheaper than the 30 million buck legal suit we could have been facing.

He says that was the risk Labour subjected the taxpayer to and his beleaguered boss Teflon John Key suggested Labour Cabinet papers, forced into the public arena this week, pointed to the Al Khalaf legal suit.

Conveniently large sections of the papers were censored, blacked out by sensitive public servants, which left the impression that there was something to hide and gave Teflon John the ability to suggest, well pretty much anything he liked.

But yours truly has been able to lift the blacked out bits and have a squizz beneath them. Having read the naughty bits, it begged the question, why they were blacked out at all, given the papers told us little more than the axing of the live sheep trade didn't go down well in Riyadh and that it could affect the outcome of the free trade agreement with the region? Now that was hardly a reason for keeping it from our prying eyes.

There was no mention of the threat from the Saudi businessman that he was thinking of taking legal action. Certainly he wasn't happy the live sheep trade had been stopped, given that he'd invested a lot of money in it and the papers do show the Saudis may have been led to believe the trade could be resumed.

Now you can see why the Tories weren't interested in releasing the papers, they didn't fit their spin!

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