Has he received any reports on the war in Iraq?
Yes. There are daily reports in the media on the war in Iraq but, oddly, no reference to it in the recently released National Party policy on foreign affairs and defence. However—[ Interruption]
—I have seen a report where John Key explains that with the statement “the war in Iraq is over.” That will be an absolute revelation to the families of the 768 coalition force members who have been tragically killed in Iraq since February of this year, and of the around 3,000 Iraqi civilians equally tragically killed in the last few months alone.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sitting beside Mr Goff, and people in this House know he has an incredibly loud voice. I could not hear all the answer because the National Party members were barracking across the House, trying to drown out his answer. I ask you to allow him to answer the question so that we can hear it.
The member is correct. The level of intervention and barracking was to the stage where, in fact, it was impossible to hear the answer from the Minister. We will now have a supplementary question and if the barracking continues, members will be leaving the Chamber.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I could not hear the answer as well, and that affects my next question.
If the member does not wish to ask the question, she need not do so, but I invite her to ask her supplementary question.
—Minister have any evidence, given that the Leader of the Opposition has denied what he has said in the past, to support his answer to my previous question?
The evidence I have for the quotation from Mr Key is clear and is readily documented. I am happy to table that in the House. Equally, I am happy to table Mr Key’s denial—his claim that the answer he gave was in relation to a question about the invasion of Iraq. I will table that as well, because clearly that statement is misleading. I can understand that Mr Key forgot that he had voted for a resolution in this House a few years that supported the presence of New Zealand troops in the invasion. What I cannot understand—and it reflects on his credibility—is that he has forgotten what he was asked one day earlier, and forgotten what he said in reply to it.
Is the Minister of Defence aware that in making his comments the Leader of the Opposition was relying on statements made by the previous Minister of Defence, the Hon Mark Burton, who in August 2003 talked about “humanitarian and reconstruction aid to post-war Iraq”, comments by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Hon Phil Goff, who in the same year expressed “great relief and satisfaction that the conflict” in Iraq “was short”, and the fact that the same Hon Phil Goff, the previous foreign affairs Minister, also talked about providing “a sound basis for the engagement of the international community in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq”; and is the Minister of Defence now saying that the previous Minister of Defence and the previous foreign affairs Minister were wrong when they made those comments—or perhaps he does not understand that postwar means after the war is over?
Mr Brownlee’s question was heard in relative silence. I ask that members do the same courtesy to the Minister in his response.
The only thing wrong with Mr Brownlee’s comment was that he got the month wrong. I said immediately after the invasion had taken place that I was relieved that the period of conflict involved with the invasion had been short, which indeed it had been. The sending of New Zealand Defence Force engineers to Iraq was done at a time when it was sensible to do that. Unlike the combat forces that Gerry Brownlee and John Key wanted sent for the invasion, the engineers were sent there under a United Nations resolution to do humanitarian and reconstruction work. What was absolutely wrong was the gaffe made by John Key last week when he said that the conflict in Iraq was over, when, clearly, with thousands of people continuing to die, that statement was wrong. Not only was it wrong but also, instead of owning up to the gaffe, he continued to mislead the country and electorate by saying he had not made the statement. That is becoming a pattern, and it reflects on the integrity and credibility of Mr Key.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The circumstances of Iraq surely do not justify the kind of guffawing glee, laughter, and noise that is emanating from the National Party benches. National members have no right to be allowed to persist in behaving in this House in that way. No other party supports that attitude. I ask you to bring them to order.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While the member was making that point of order there was a clear interjection from Bill English.
I am afraid that I have asked members to desist and to respect the Standing Orders. There is obviously a determination not to do so. This is a House in which there should be freedom of speech, and that means freedom to be heard, as well. Of course interventions are allowed, but members have no respect for that fundamental right of members in this House. That simply cannot continue. Members cannot hear. So I will systematically ask members to leave the Chamber from now on, regardless, if in fact members cannot be heard. Otherwise, we will have to have question time in silence.
To clear matters up, does the defence budget stretch to funding John Key on an educational trip around Iraq, so that he can see what is going on in Fallujah and in the suburbs of Baghdad, meet the people, and experience peace firsthand?
The defence budget indeed might stretch to that, but I understand from rumours within the National Party that it will not be necessary to spend that money, because if John Key keeps making the gaffes that he is, I hear that Bill English is arranging a whip-round for the National members to give John Key a one-way ticket there themselves.
Does the Government welcome the new apparently bipartisan support for the Labour-led Government’s policies on Iraq and other defence and foreign policies reflected in National’s policy release last week?
Of course, if it could be relied upon. But I have two problems with it. The first problem is that it utterly contradicts everything the National Party has been saying publicly, and sometimes privately, over the last 7 years, and, secondly, we have seen so many flip-flops one way and the other on foreign and defence policy by the National Party that it simply cannot be relied upon. I think policy should be founded on conviction and principle, and not on the political expediency felt by the National Party to avoid losing votes on this issue over the next few months. For that reason, although I would welcome a genuinely bipartisan approach, I do not see any genuineness, conviction, or principle in what the media called a lame and tame foreign and defence policy. It is really “me too”, without the conviction.
When the Minister expressed relief and satisfaction that the conflict was short and talked about the postwar reconstruction of Iraq 4 years ago, what was he implying, if it was not that the war was over—and, just by the way, would it be OK for Mr Key to use his airpoints to go to Iraq now that Air New Zealand flies there, in order that he can see firsthand what is going on in Basra?
I doubt whether there is ministerial responsibility for the latter part of that question.
I do not think there was anybody in this House, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, who was not relieved that the conflict involved in the invasion was relatively brief. I do not think there was any opposition in this House to the fact that the New Zealand Labour-led Government decided to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. What has made John Key a laughing stock is his claim, 4 years after the invasion, that the war was over, when conflict is still taking thousands of lives in that unfortunate country.
On the issue of the “me too” foreign policy, and having regard to discussions the Minister and I have had, is it true to say, as Mr Key said—no doubt advised by Mr McCully—that only one-third of our aid goes to the Pacific, or is it 51 percent; which of those two figures is correct?
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that Mr Goff is a former foreign Minister and would probably be able to answer that question quite competently, but it is slightly alarming that the current foreign Minister has to ask the defence Minister a question about foreign aid. I wonder how that fits in with his ministerial responsibility.
Please be seated. There is no responsibility for foreign aid in his current portfolio.
I seek leave to table the foreign affairs budget, circa 2007, which demonstrates clearly that 51 percent of our foreign aid and overseas development assistance goes to the Pacific, not 33 percent as Mr Key was told by Mr McCully to say.