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We Are Asking the Wrong Question

Written By: - Date published: 1:18 pm, August 23rd, 2014 - 63 comments
Categories: accountability, john key, Politics - Tags: ,

The charge sheet against John Key could hardly be more serious. If it could be shown that he had misused his position as the Minister for the security and intelligence services to discredit his political opponents and had then lied about doing so, it is hard to see that he could stay in office.

The charges, however, have not yet been conclusively proved. The Prime Minister has so far managed, by the skin of his teeth, to avoid censure by claiming that he was not personally involved in the disreputable behaviour that has come to light. But he has been able to do so because we have been asking the wrong question.

Over recent days, three successive disclosures have all pointed to his involvement in the release to the notorious right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater, of an SIS document that was detrimental to the then Leader of the Opposition. First, a letter from the Director of the SIS, Warren Tucker, referred three times to the Prime Minister being informed of the release.

Secondly, a letter from the Ombudsman made a similar reference to the SIS Director discussing the matter with the Prime Minister. And thirdly, a television interview with the Prime Minister just after the release has him acknowledging that he had been briefed on it by the SIS Director.

The Prime Minister, however, asserts that none of this is conclusive. The three references to the fact that he was informed of the release mean simply that his office was informed; he himself, he says, was blissfully unaware that it had happened until much later.

However incredible this may seem, it is an assertion that – without someone from the Prime Minister’s staff breaking ranks – is practically impossible to disprove. The result is stalemate; those who want to believe the Prime Minister will continue to do so.

Let us, however, give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that the SIS Director did not speak to him, either by phone or in person, but simply passed on the information that the release had been made to whoever was his point of contact in the Prime Minister’s office, and that that person then unaccountably thought that it was of so little consequence that the Prime Minister could be kept in the dark about it.

If this was really what happened, the Prime Minister could then say, as he does, that he was not personally informed. He could then offer to repeat that assertion – not in good conscience but with technical accuracy – on oath. But is the question of whether or not he was informed in person after the release had been made actually relevant to the real issue – his involvement or otherwise in the planning and approval that preceded and made the release possible?

In order to answer that question, let us review what we know. We know that the SIS had a confidential record of a briefing they had provided to the Leader of the Opposition. We know that all other media requests under the Official Information Act for the release of that record had been refused. We know that the Prime Minister treated Cameron Slater as a personal friend and political ally and that his office was in regular contact with Slater and briefed him on a range of issues – as did a number of other ministers including Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee.

We know that Slater put in a request for the release of the SIS record and that it was immediately granted – with unusual alacrity. We know that Slater then used the release to discredit the Leader of the Opposition and that this was helpful to the National Party, as it was intended to be, with a general election in the offing.

We know that the SIS would invariably be required to brief their Minister on such a sensitive matter; the whole government machine is constantly reminded of the “no surprises” policy. We know that it is unthinkable that such a highly political – not to say partisan – release of information would not be discussed by the SIS with their regular contact in the Prime Minister’s office, and that it is equally unthinkable that that contact, surely the Prime Minister’s most trusted adviser or advisers, would not have discussed the implications (and political advantages) of that action with him – as well as the means, possibly, by which his own fingerprints could be made to disappear from the scene of the crime.

We also know that we are entitled to conflate what his office knew with what he himself knew; that is, after all, what both the SIS Director and the Ombudsman assumed, and what the Prime Minister himself accepted was the case in his television interview at the time.

The whole question of whether the Prime Minister was subsequently informed as a formal matter of record of the release matters little and is, in other words, irrelevant. By focussing on the three references to the subsequent briefing, the Prime Minister’s inquisitors have allowed themselves to be distracted from asking the real question. Is it not incredible that the Prime Minister did not know in advance of Slater’s Official Information request and had not been consulted about it, either directly by the SIS or by his own office? Is that not the question that the Prime Minister must answer under oath?

Bryan Gould

23 August 2014

 

 

 

 

63 comments on “We Are Asking the Wrong Question ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    And if ‘technically’ Key did not know about the release to Slater before it happened – then what did he do about it after he found out about it?

    Who has he held accountable since then?

    If the answer is ‘no-one’ – then Key remains responsible. All his attempts to wriggle out are futile and meaningless until someone is held accountable. And given the length of time that has elapsed the only possible person to whom the finger points must be the Prime Minister himself.

    • Maz 1.1

      I agree. Perfectly summed up!

    • Hanswurst 1.2

      Indeed. If, as Tucker says, informing the Prime Minister’s Office is informing the Prime Minister, then surely the head of the SIS has the right to assume that any information passed on to the PM’s office will reach the PM as quickly as possible. If the Prime Minister’s Office neglects to tell the Prime Minister as the head of the SIS is entitled to expect, then that is the Prime Minister’s responsibility

  2. Michael 2

    If Key does give evidence under oath, what’s he going to swear on: the Bible? The Talmud? Or Wealth of Nations? Whatever, the man’s a liar and morally corrupt so how can we believe anything he says, whether on oath or not?

    • UglyTruth 2.1

      At common law the purpose of an oath is to call deity to witness, with the implication that there is a basis for divine intervention if the testimony is false.

      lex terre

      The law of the land. The common law, or the due course of the common law; the general law of the land. Equivalent to “due process of law”. In the strictest sense, trial by oath; the privilege of making oath. (Blacks 5th)

    • dv 2.2

      As a matter of interest doesn’t the PM already swear an oath??

      • UglyTruth 2.2.1

        Sometimes it’s an oath and sometimes it’s an affirmation with no reference to deity.

        Link

      • Inky 2.2.2

        He’ll have been swearing a few of them under his breath this week, I bet.

        Look, you’ll never get an honest answer out of him when he’s under pressure about something. He’ll deny, lie or have another brain fade, under oath or not.

        The only way I can see of catching him out is to use his tactics against him by revealing to the world how he uses a policy of ducking and diving and giving non-answers to get away with “blue” murder. Time after time after time …

        I was just having a look at wikileaks and found a link to a story on the stuff website from June, which I vaguely recalled. But I didn’t recall what Key had said about this particular issue. Blow me down, if it isn’t another case of the man not remembering anything! How often has he used this “gee, I, dunno” ploy when questioned?

        In this instance, he was asked about a comment from the US’ Director of National Intelligence who said New Zealand had been welcomed back into the Five Eyes fold in 2009 after a “2 decade absence”.

        A pretty big issue which would stick in your memory, wouldn’t you think? Not one you could easily forget if you were the PM and minister in charge of our spy guys and girls?

        Yet here’s what he said: “I don’t know exactly what they are referring to. My understanding of it is that even through the challenging times of the relationship post the anti-nuclear legislation, New Zealand continued to be an active member of Five Eyes.”

        Asked to confirm whether his Government had ever made a decision to actively rejoin Five Eyes, Key responded: “I don’t think that’s right, but I remember there were some vague things . . . ”

        Come on, what is that last line, a yes or a no? It’s neither, it’s no answer at all. Outrageous! Can you imagine his golf-mate Obama getting away with that sort of nonsense? Fox would skin him alive.

        What’s needed is for people to trawl through the net and find every instance of his sidestepping legitimate questions in this way and never being tied down to an honest answer. There’s a clear pattern — he may have done this hundreds of times. And if a list was compiled and, to use a favourite phrase of his of late, someone joined the dots, it would be damning proof of a policy of deliberate obfuscation, a policy of keeping this country’s citizens perpetually in the dark about virtually any contentious move his Govt makes.

        http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10184624/NZ-welcomed-back-to-spy-network

    • kenny 2.3

      Correct.

  3. Stunned mullet 3

    Do I have this right, this whole argument is over whether John Key knew in advance that material was being released under the OIA, ahead of it being released that showed that Phil Goff lied to the public. Surely the story should be about Phil Goff lying??

    • Macro 3.1

      Actually we don’t know whether Goff was briefed or not, and the time line would indicate that he was not.

      July 20
      Following an article in the Southland Times the original story (involving possible Israeli spies and the SIS) breaks. Interview with Key: “Speaking to reporters in San Francisco this afternoon, Mr Key said there was a police and SIS investigation because of the rapid way in which the Israelis left the country after the February earthquake. … Currently on tour in the US, he said it was “not in the national interest” to give details of any SIS inquiry.

      July 23
      Key’s US visit ends and he goes to Hawaii on holiday.

      July 24
      John Key on Q&A – conducted while he was in Hawaii

      Phil Goff was briefed, yeah, that’s right. I personally didn’t brief him, but my understanding from the director of SIS, Warren Tucker, is that he was briefed and he was shown the same note and report that I saw.

      Note that Key and Tucker have been in touch about this while Key is not in NZ – so they certainly communicate while Key is abroad.

      July 24
      “John Key says the SIS briefed Phil Goff about the behaviour of Israeli nationals in Christchurch. Mr Goff contacts SIS director Dr Warren Tucker to say he had not been briefed.”

      July 25
      “Mr Goff and Dr Tucker meet to discuss the matter.”

      July 25
      Whaleoil post “Goff Needs to go”
      “All someone has to do now is ask Warren Tucker to produce the briefing notes and Goff is a goner.”

      We only have the word of John Key – a known liar – and Warren Tucker – who has recently amended his earlier statements to fit with those of John Key his previous boss.

      • Pasupial 3.1.1

        The flimsiness of the evidence against him, and the participants later statements, all suggest that Goff did not lie to the public: “A handwritten note on the documents states Goff has read the papers. It is not clear who wrote the note”.

        Goff said Tucker is wrong and he has never read the document.

        “He may have brought the document to the meeting but he never showed it to me,” Goff said.
        “He has since shown me the first document and I know I have never seen it before.

        “He has also told me in writing that the NZSIS does not hold any acknowledgement from me as having read or received the document.”

        Goff said he will no longer meet with Tucker or representatives of the SIS unless there is someone independent in the room to keep “a true and accurate record”.

        http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/goff-attacks-sis-head-over-spy-probe-4339542

      • kenny 3.1.2

        Surely Phil Goff would remember something this unusual? His first reaction was that he had not been briefed.

        Was Tucker lying too? Judging by his subsequent actions this is not that far fetched.

    • Colonial Viper 3.2

      It’s about the PM misusing his office and his SIS powers to fuck our democracy. Do please try and keep up.

      • UglyTruth 3.2.1

        Let’s not leave the Zionists out of the mix. The original incident after the earthquake led to a Mossad ring being allegedly exposed, which leads to state-sponsored terrorism. Key “mis-spoke” about the event being a man-made event rather than a natural one. Finally there is Slater’s pro-Zionist stance and his trip to Tel Aviv.

        http://uncensored.co.nz/2011/03/04/was-the-christchurch-earthquake-a-terrible-natural-disaster-or-was-it-a-terrible-man-made-disaster/

        • lurgee 3.2.1.1

          Do go away, you dreadful little person.

          • UglyTruth 3.2.1.1.1

            Perhaps I should have been more explicit regarding the link between the Mossad and terrorism.

            “evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.”

            Jane’s Intelligence Digest, 3/15/2002

            It is rather strange that the US media, with one notable exception, seems to be ignoring what may well prove to be the most explosive story since the 11 September attacks – the alleged break-up of a major Israeli espionage operation in the United States which aimed to infiltrate both the justice and defence departments and which may also have been tracking Al-Qaeda terrorists before the aircraft hijackings took place.

            The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been quick to dismiss a 4 March report by Intelligence Online, a French web site that specialises in security matters (and expanded on by French daily Le Monde the following day) that US authorities had arrested or deported some 120 Israelis since February 2001 and that the investigation was still continuing. The FBI insists that no Israeli has been charged with espionage, but has agreed that an undisclosed number of Israeli students have been expelled for “immigration violations”. Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden dismissed the espionage allegations as “an urban myth that’s been circulating for months…”

            If the reports from Paris are correct, it would be the largest known Israeli espionage operation mounted in the USA, the Jewish state’s closest ally and one on which it depends for its survival.

            Israel’s intelligence organisations have been spying on the USA and running clandestine operations on US soil since the Jewish state was established.

            This has included smuggling an estimated 200 pounds of weapons-grade uranium for its secret nuclear arms programme in the 1960s to widescale industrial espionage, much of it conducted by the highly secret Scientific Liaison Bureau, known by its Hebrew acronym Lakam, which was run by the Israeli Defence Ministry and its equally little-known successor Malmab (the Security Authority for the Ministry of Defence). Indeed, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress, reported in April 1996 that Israel “conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally”.

            While the sort of operation described by Intelligence Online and Le Monde (if indeed the allegation is true) is unlikely to have caused anywhere near the damage to US security inflicted by navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, an American who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for providing Israeli intelligence with a mountain of top secret material in 1984-85, it would still be political dynamite which could result in a political backlash against Israel which is finding itself increasingly isolated within the international community…

            US officials admitted to reporters that the entire investigation had become “too hot to handle”, but declined to give further details. However, some FBI officials did confirm at the time that the Israelis were running a major eavesdropping operation that had penetrated into the highest echelons of the US administration.

        • tricledrown 3.2.1.2

          Ugly Drunk head off with Harriet to Whaleoil!
          You are plan C well plan A didn’t work plan B was weak and pathetic now Plan C is a Natural disaster you Ugly Drunk!
          You are just fanning the flames by pouring recycled whaleoil on the fire!
          Its Not OK!
          Sober up Ugly Drunk come back when you have come out of rehab!

      • srylands 3.2.2

        ” Do please try and keep up.”

        The favourite salutation of the condescending prick.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.3

      That’s the second time you’ve posted the same comment.

      Goff paid for his error (if he made one) in 2011. These are serious allegations. The NZSIS Act is not to be trifled with.

  4. Bill 4

    If his prints are (let’s argue) wiped from any doings in the time between the request being made and the material released, then what chance is there of his prints being around in the time prior to the request being even made? I just can’t see it. No-one, in terms of protocol or procedure, would have had to inform him of anything during that time.

  5. Man in a Barrel 5

    Et tu, New Zealand;

    “Ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention applicable to governments using the Westminster system. In this system, a Cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions or omissions of his ministry or department.

    There is no doubt that in Malta we follow this system in the sense that the Standing Orders and procedures of the House of Representatives are not too far removed from the British model. In recent years, however, we note that this notion of ministerial accountability is being slowly eroded here and many ministers frequently try and exonerate themselves from accountability by arguing ignorance of misbehaviour. The electorate in general, however, does not seem to be too amused and will surely give its verdict in due course.

    This notwithstanding, there is no law or code that clearly defines the juridical notion of ministerial accountability, and this perhaps is unfortunate. The Constitution is absolutely mute in this regard and so is the code of ethics for ministers and parliamentary secretaries, promulgated in January 1994. This principle, therefore, is the result of custom but, nonetheless, is very much within the spirit of parliamentary democracy.

    In the UK, the formulation of a set of guidelines took place during the Crichel Down affair in 1954 in which the then Minister of Agriculture resigned. It was inferred that the minister in question would be exempt from personal accountability only in instances where the mistakes committed by officials within the relative department would not prove to be an important issue of policy or where there was no serious claim to individual rights.

    It is also worth referring to the resignations in 2002 of Steven Byers and Estelle Morris, UK secretaries of state for transport and education. Here, both ministers resigned after they acknowledged that they had failed in the oversight or supervision of their departments and, thus, in the fulfilment of their ministerial role.

    In Malta, over the last decade or so, there has never been a case of any government minister conceding to ministerial accountability, even in instances of gross mismanagement and institutionalised mismanagement or corruption in their respective departments. In the UK, as stated, failure to properly oversee the proper running of a particular department, which could cause serious prejudice, has always led to resignations. In our country, in a subtle way, government ministers have been shifting their individual ministerial responsibility onto their subordinates, including heads of departments and senior civil servants. This trend goes contrary to the dictates of parliamentary democracy where, as stated, the minister must, as a rule, bear the brunt of serious failings within his ministry.”

    http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100619/opinion/on-ministerial-responsibility.313380

    • ianmac 5.1

      Interesting outline from Malta, Man in A Barrel. Thanks.

      Here in NZ the evolution of Ministerial responsibility has been constantly towards no responsibility. Ministers say “it is an operational matter and not the Ministers problem.” Except when something good has happened and the Minister claims the credit for the great outcome of the Operational matter. Weird eh?
      And yet we know that out of sight of public vision, Ministers like Tony Ryall are very much in the face of those doing the Operational matters. The activities of Parata in Education are certainly direct interference in the Operation of schools often without any consultation with those teachers carrying out those Operational matters. Accountable?

      And Key is the Prime Minister and in the current case is the Minister in charge of the SIS but appears to have no responsibility for the matters as they are Operational. Accountable? No and nor are any of those shadowy figures in the PM’s Office.

  6. crocodill 6

    “under oath” oh god please no not another Winstonesque media impeachment. Saying you’ll repeat yourself “under oath”, as if those two words somehow increase the veracity of what is said, is meaningless wiffle. He might as well say cross my heart hope to die.

  7. Hamish 7

    The most accomplished liars never admit to lying. Never.

    Key is never, ever, ever going to admit that he was in on all this. He is incapable of it, like all psycho liars.

    The man doesn’t have any shame, we’ve seen how blatant he is all this week past.
    While we stare at the press gallery interviews, stunned at the cheek of the creep, he doesn’t give it a second thought. He’s already moving on to the next con.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1

      Look on the bright side: if he’s saying it on oath you might be on the jury 😈

      • kenny 7.1.1

        He would say anything on oath and not bat an eye.

        John Key is a liar – fullstop.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1.1.1

          Hey now, look, you can’t all be on the jury, no, stop pushing, ow, help!

        • Chris 7.1.1.2

          Maybe not bat an eye but he’d have his liar’s face going on. I love key’s liar’s face. Sweaky liar key.

  8. kenny 8

    So like I asked in Open Mike earlier today – who authorised the release of the information to Slater if not John Key? Under whose authority?

    That is the question.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 8.1

      Tucker. He’s the only other person with that authority, if it can be successfully argued that releasing the information was an official duty.

    • Chris 8.2

      People seem to be forgetting how Ede drafted Slater’s request for him. So Ede is allowed to do this without Key knowing? And then when Key’s asked about it he says it’s nothing to do with him and that if that’s what his employee does then that’s okay? So Key’s office can do anything it wants to as long as Key doesn’t know about it?

  9. RedLogix 9

    Or perhaps someone interviewing Key over the next week or so could ask this simple question:

    “Given your claim of knowing nothing about the documented actions and attitudes clearly revealed in Hager’s book, and that most New Zealanders find what they reveal repellent and reprehensible – do you as Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party condemn this behaviour and assure us that you, your office and the Party you lead – have completely disassociated yourselves from any further contact with these people?”

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1

      He’s already answered the question: we all speak to bloggers from time to time.

      • RedLogix 9.1.1

        ” Next question Mr Key – do you, your office and Party intend to keep on talking to Cameron Slater and thereby confirming your support and approval of his activities?”

        • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1.1.1

          That’s a double barreled question, h/t Laila Harré.

          I talk to all sort of people whose activities I don’t approve of and what I can tell you is that includes the Greens.

          • Matthew Whitehead 9.1.1.1.1

            Talking to someone is different from elements of his party remaining in close co-operation. I talk to plenty of people I dislike, but I don’t lead anyone who would help them out with jobs that I publicly disapprove of.

            What he needs to confirm:
            Is he in control of all of his party? (clearly not, given Collins the cat appears to have 9 lives, but it’s part of the setup)
            Does he consider close co-operation with dirty operators like Cameron acceptable for his staff, ministers, or members of his caucus?
            If yes & no respectively, can he assure us that all co-operation (eg. writing OIA requests on his behalf) with Cameron Slater and any others like him has ended permanently? (note: that’s not the same thing as never talking to him)
            If no or yes respectively, how can the public maintain confidence in his leadership, and does he plan to resign given his promises of accountability and higher standards?

            • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1.1.1.1.1

              At the end of the day, Nuzidders are interested in jobs. You can contact my office with any other questions.

  10. One Anonymous Bloke 10

    Key is tiptoeing through the minefield. Will he come out clean?

  11. Stunned mullet 11

    @ugly truth….. You appear to be barking mad!

  12. Ecosse_Maidy 12

    Great article Brian…We need more of this on the standard.I can recall you in the U.K in the 80s.
    What was Kinocks loss and the UKs loss is New Zealand’s gain.Great forensic article. Thanks again Brian you haven’t lost it!

    • greywarbler 12.1

      @Ecosse M 6.03
      You have come across Mr Gould before you say. So now it is time to learn to spell his name, which is Bryan. I think it will be the same man – time to get the name right.

      • Ecosse_Maidy 12.1.1

        Are you sure you weren’t my teacher in standard two greywarbler?You certainly sound like it.

        • greywarbler 12.1.1.1

          @Ecosse 6.52
          Your teacher didn’t do much of a job apparently. It shows respect for someone to spell their name correctly. especially when it is someone who has been prominent and been frequently in the media. I have spelled your pseudonym correctly. and respectfully.

          • Ecosse_Maidy 12.1.1.1.1

            Gray now now there’s no need to try to make yourself look self important at the cost of others.Please note you missed a capital letter.You might of had the same teacher I had.

  13. Sable 13

    If someone were to ask the right question then its very possible this government would be out on it ass. There are however lots of vested interests, big corporations included who do not want to see this happen so its highly unlikely anyone will be asking any “tough” questions as I have said more than once.

    • UglyTruth 13.1

      Here’s one for Collins: why does the system use oaths, which are theistic, when it removes the theistic aspect from the state’s description of the common law?

      http://www.actsinjunction.info/

      • tricledrown 13.1.1

        Ugly Drunk hollow words defending the Hollow Men!

      • Rich 13.1.2

        If you want a theocracy UglyTruth can I suggest you find your own planet. We had thousands of years of theocratic dictatorship, and it still exists in places, which is quite enough for a species’ timeframe thanks very much.

        • UglyTruth 13.1.2.1

          I don’t want a theocracy. What I want is for people to understand why NZ’s body politic is fundamentally corrupt.

          • Rich 13.1.2.1.1

            It’s fundamentally corrupt because the establishment has thrown their lot in with the most corrupt PM NZ has ever seen.

            I can only guess at the reason why, but it’s not a problem with democracy as it comes under the Tyranny banner. And with that in mind could you remind me of the theocrats who have supported democracy in the past?

            There are a few of course but they’re not at the head of their churches. This is not an issue about democracy falling by the wayside of a god-given democracy because there isn’t one. In fact you sound like one of the early theocrats, constantly complaining about the wayward flock and suggesting if they only corrected their ways and acceded to the rule of god the garden of eden would be their’s for the taking. Ha.

  14. AmaKiwi 14

    Bryan Gould: “Is it not incredible that the Prime Minister did not know in advance of Slater’s Official Information request and had not been consulted about it, either directly by the SIS or by his own office? Is that not the question that the Prime Minister must answer under oath?”

    Colonial Viper (3.2): “It’s about the PM misusing his office and his SIS powers to fuck our democracy.”

    Ditto Collins: It’s about the Minister of Justice misusing her office and powers to fuck our democracy.

  15. Ben Adam 15

    When asked, Key said that he would be prepared to make his assertions on oath.
    Key should be asked if he would be prepared to take a lie detector test.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 15.1

      I think if we’ve got to the point where the Prime Minister’s words are so ambiguous, open to multiple interpretations, and have a pattern of giving false impressions – the “meaning of me” – then a lie detector is superfluous. His statements cannot be trusted.

  16. Ecosse_Maidy 16

    Sorry Bryan…I hope you forgive me the spelling of your name incorrectly.Not that you complained..but others have corrected my spelling.Now back to the real issue of the article. I repeat my point that it was a delight to read your comments and your forensic analysis.

    PS Gray The Spelling & Grammar Czar of The Standard. Are you sure you’re not Pete George in a very bad disguise? Where by you miss the real issues and concentrate by ways of deflection on those that are less…No wonder National are getting an easy ride.

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  • Joint Statement: New Zealand and Australian Trade Ministers
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