Some respite on the housing crisis as Murray McCully gives Labour a free hit

Murray McCully

Foreign Minister Murray McCully recently met the Saudi businessman at the centre of a controversial farm deal being probed by the Auditor-General.

Treasury documents released under the Official Information Act yesterday reveal McCully met up with Hmood Al Khalaf in April.

They also reveal further Treasury concerns about the controversial ‘agri-hub’ project being investigated by Auditor-General Lyn Provost.

Ahead of a trip to Saudi Arabia McCully’s office said the minister had no scheduled meetings with Al Khalaf.

However, the newly-released papers show the Saudi businessman travelled to Riyadh to attend a function aimed at furthering business links between the countries and hosted by McCully.

They had a discussion that was “regarded as being very beneficial to the ongoing partnership,” according to minutes from the agri-hub’s governance group, which includes a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official.

As more paperwork is coming out, it Mr Mac is starting to realise his goose is cooked.   The minutiae isn’t very appetising, but it doesn’t allow him much wiggle room when it comes to accusations that the New Zealand government essentially handed over a ‘facilitation payment’ while no credible legal threat existed. 

Opposition parties say there was clearly never a realistic threat of legal action and it has been used by the Government as justification for the “corrupt” deal.

Treasury officials were also unhappy they had not been updated on the farm for as long as six months – despite Cabinet having specifically instructed them to have oversight.

The total cost to taxpayers of the deal is around $11.5 million, including about $6 million on establishing the farm and $1.5 million to fly 900 pregnant breeding ewes from New Zealand.

The new release of Treasury documents also reveal:
• A briefing from June 8 states the delay in the project since mid 2015 was because the Saudis had not given approval to build the abattoir, the final stage of the project: “this has not yet been resolved and the process seems unclear”.

• The delays required Finance Minister Bill English to sign-off a special transfer of spending into the current financial year.

• On February 5, a Treasury official sent an email saying that Mfat and NZTE were required by Cabinet to keep Treasury updated on the project but “we have not heard from either in around six months”.

• On March 3, another email from a Treasury official was sent about the project. “At the moment we have governance concerns,” the email states, with the next sentence redacted.

By the time Parliament sits again, McCully’s going to get the crap kicked out of him.  Whatever leverage he has over his fellow ministers can now be ignored as the risk of keeping him on now outweighs whatever dark secrets he is keeping on anyone else.   It could get ugly, but Key will probably manage this to go away quietly instead of McCully having his own Chris Carter moment on the way out.

One thing that does remain publicly unanswered is how much Michelle Boag had to do with this stellar stuff up.  Generally she wouldn’t be thrown to the dogs, but this time her credit may have run out.


– Nicholas Jones, Isaac Davison, NZ Herald

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