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McCully announces inquiry into MFAT's handling of Malaysian diplomat allegations

Political fallout from allegations of sexual assault against a Malaysian High Commission official continues, with the announcement of a full ministerial inquiry into the affair.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, under siege for how the case has been handled, announced the inquiry this afternoon.

The terms of reference are broad: whether this was an isolated incident or part of a wider pattern; whether officials met their obligations to inform Ministers; and
how any shortcomings revealed can be rectified.

While that does not explicitly include Mr McCully’s own handling of the affair, the question of whether officials met obligations to inform ministers cannot be answered without investigating what ministers were told by officials, and when.

It also includes, more specifically, the questions of whether “proposed talking points” provided by officials for both Mr McCully and Prime Minister John Key were in line with what officials were actually doing, and the question of “what explanation is there for any conflicts between the proposed talking points and the actions officials were taking?”

That question opens up  - or should open up - not only behaviour of officials but also behaviour of ministers.

But the main focus of the inquiry, which is being conducted by former Secretary of the Treasury John Whitehead, is clearly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade itself.

MFAT has been through major shake ups since current Secretary for Foreign Affairs John Allen was brought in as a “change agent” in 2009 and his approach has upended a lot of pre-existing protocols, not to mention upset a lot of long serving MFAT officials.

Whether the right protocols were followed, as far as diplomatic immunity, clear communication, and keeping both senior officials and ministers informed, is going to be at the core of this inquiry.

No deadline has been given: the only comment on this in the terms of reference is the report is to be completed in a “timely fashion”.

It is understood this is not likely to be before the September 20 election.

More by Rob Hosking

Comments and questions

Expecting the Foreign minister to also be an electorate MP is silly.
McCully needs to step aside for Mr Craig.

No National MP should step aside for Colin Craig. Labour might give him a seat, and he certainly hasn't ruled out working with the socialists.

No Colin Craig = No National led Government

So no report before the election, and as Winston Peters says: "Why do the terms of reference omit any reference to ministerial involvement"? Methinks a coverup to be avoided until post-election.

Let's face it - if Winston Peters is in McCully's ministerial role (god forbid!), he would insists on the terms of reference omit any reference to ministerial involvement. Same goes if the Labour Party is in government . Of course the opposition and fringe parties will make the most of this fiasco !

This is a joke as expected

A bit like McCully - a joke

McCully would have been better not to do anything in regard to an enquiry than do this. Politically this is stupid and John Key won't be impressed form his Hawaiian hideaway.

Until such times as an alleged "rape" even took place,what will or would the so called enquiry cover.Seems a lot of people are jumping at shadows,even interfering in the overall judicial system.Perhaps the instigators and certain media outlets should be served with being public nuisances, and endeavouring to commit political mayhem,with false rumours and innuendo.Surely natural justice for all concerned, in the allegations,should be allowed to take their course.

On the face of it, there are a lot of questions to be answered in this matter, including the accused version of events and, the lastest revelations that the bail conditons set by the court, imply that the two parties knew each other.

Murray needs to resign!

McCully is well past his use by date.
This smoke blowing exercise is an insult and will just add to the mans growing list of goofy blunders.

All this talk of the accused being asessed for some pyschological disorder is just a smokescreen. He is attached to a Maylasian government intelligence unit.

Sometimes an enquirey provides a helpful change moment...where as a result people and performance improve.

The election probably means this will not be able to happen.

Murray's announcement is a precursor as well as a preemptive move for some bad news -- the guy isn't coming back to NZ.

Exactly - he is not coming back

That has been obvious from day one. The Malaysian Govt only played this stupid game with our Govt because they were asked to - to try and help McCully save face.

McCully surely has to now go

Oh, for a highly paid consultant report paid by taxpayers which exonerate MFAT's officials because they were simply following advice. That's what all the other government departments do now - all with the government's concurrence.

I don't think he should go. The alleged sexual assault was not his responsibility but the handling of it was. However the same issues that require sensitivity to woman reporting these issues affect leaders and their handling. If we are too hard on leaders for not having quite the right emoticons at the right time we will ultimately indirectly suppress the deeper issues as the powers those leaders need to carry will be sustained for broader reasons.
IMHO NZ has shown immaturity regarding the need for countries to have diplomatic immunity. It appears one man has assaulted one woman in a highly sensitive context. Diplomatic immunity allows both countries to avoid the tempting but untrue implication that this is somehow a reflection on either of those two countries.
In this case the woman appears to have the strength to grasp those issues if she so chooses - who would wish such reflection on anyone. She is right to be affronted and those around her to bridle at the departure from ordinary trial process. However the broader context of diplomacy demands an exception and it will likely be granted because it is the right thing to do. It doesn't support the accusation that sexual assault is being minimised because in reality it is not. In reality it is a disaster being felt keenly by both countries.
However any road to peace following any assault requires one party to stand down from retaliation. In this case that opportunity lies first with NZ and it is a move we should make with confidence but not lightly. The opportunity for honour for those who stand down from escalation remains in public tragedies as much as in private tragedies.
The opportunity to forgive is one offered by all to all and is one of the greatest forms of respect underlining some of the most fundamental human rights to be upheld.
What is absent in these pages is many words of empathy for the woman, and emotional support as we step back from the situation.
Because a decision not to pursue a particular process to justice does not need to be a decision to undermine one of our own anymore than a decision to abandon justice itself. Nor does it need to be interpreted as a dismissal of the seriousness of sexual assault against women nor a devaluing of women as a treasured and mighty group of New Zealanders.
The path to peace offers the opportunity to honour those whose sacrifices pave that way much in the way we honour those whose lives are offered in war that others may enjoy peace.
It is interesting that that honour to those taken in war is often conveyed with silence.
The silence by the majority in NZ has in fact been deafening and defining and the opportunity is there for those who are sacrificing to hear the unspoken words of support, the honour and the respect.

Anyone who has even the most basic understanding about the inter-relationships between the minister and MFAT as well as government-to-government, will know that from the beginning this was one carefully contrived charade.

The Malaysian Government, by saying their diplomat would return, was to serve as a release valve to ease the growing pressure that was building. The "psychological testing" was a stall to give more time for the matter to fade from prominence in the public domain.

MFAT, acting the way they did, were under no illusion as to the preferred outcome the NZ Government wanted. There has always been a tacit understanding as to what should happen, without explicit directions from McCully to implicate him, as well as to save him from embarrassment and consequence. All three parties -- MFAT, the NZ Government and Malaysian Government -- have scripted this narrative, and all three were complicit in the outcome predicated on subterfuge and farce, so that the Malaysian Government could "save face". The NZ public are always taken as suckers.