Diplomatic answers not good enough

MATTHEW DALLAS DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 03/07/2014

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Four days into the Malaysian diplomat scandal, neither Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully nor Prime Minister John Key has yet offered a reasonable explanation - which is what the New Zealand public deserves.

Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail was able to leave New Zealand having invoked diplomatic immunity, despite being accused of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old woman in her home.

Early reports that Malaysia refused a New Zealand Government request to waive diplomatic immunity have been muddied by the mid-week revelation that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had also offered to allow Rizalman to return to his own country - an offer Malaysia accepted.

Though it now appears Rizalman will be returned to New Zealand to face charges, it does not temper the concern over how he was allowed to leave.

McCully and the prime minister had been briefed on the situation in early May and there appears to have been little oversight of its handling until after the disgraced diplomat had left the country, two weeks after the alleged attack and five weeks before the story broke.

While the Government fends off accusations of a coverup and tries to bury the mess in obfuscation, a New Zealand woman's right to justice has been debased.

Though the apologies have now come, they ring hollow.

While somewhat egged on by the media's obsession with gaining a sacrificial scalp, the Government's priority has been damage control and protecting its relationship with its trade partner.

McCully has refused to talk about the "peculiarities of the case" other than to say the Government's intentions had become ambiguous due to a "canvassing of scenarios" between his ministry and Malaysian officials.

The prime minister, too, has also lamented the "ambiguities" of the case, offering little else but doublespeak.

The public deserves greater transparency and should demand better judgment and care from its government before it accepts any assurance that such a botch-up won't be allowed to happen again.

Seven months ago the nation winced in the wake of the police's initial handling of the Roast Buster complaints and claims of a prevailing "rape culture". The sloppiness and subverted priorities demonstrated by the Government on this occasion is no less degrading and troublesome.

One more thing: If any readers have established a support group for parents of young children obsessed with the songs of Disney film Frozen, please let me know.

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- Manawatu Standard

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