17 Jun 2015

Labour calls Govt's bluff on sheep claim

8:06 pm on 17 June 2015

Labour MP and former Cabinet minister David Parker has released 2007 Cabinet papers in the latest twist in the controversy over sheep exports to Saudi Arabia.

sheep shipment

Photo: AFP

The move comes in response to accusations from the Government that previous Labour ministers were looking to cut a deal with Saudi businessman Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf, who was aggrieved about the banning of live sheep exports.

Mr Parker said former Labour ministers were not considering lifting a ban imposed in 2003 to avoid threatened legal action, as has been claimed.

"Labour sought and obtained the 2007 papers from the Cabinet office," he said.

"The papers show the original ban being extended because of concerns about inhumane treatment after landing, using slaughter methods not allowed in New Zealand.

"National's excuse was always nonsense. The actions of the prior Labour government were legal, and, indeed, renewed twice by National in 2010 and 2013.

"No claim had ever been filed by Al-Khalaf, and would have expired under the Limitation Act even if it had been real."

David Parker

Former Cabinet minister David Parker says the papers show the actions of the Labour government were legal. Photo: RNZ / Amelia Langford

Mr Parker said there was no specific mention in the papers of the threatened legal action for damages, even in the original version.

However, the Government has stood by its claims, saying its former Labour predecessors acted in bad faith.

Acting Foreign Minister Todd McClay said Labour was also repeatedly warned its actions carried legal, commercial and diplomatic risks.

"The documents show that live sheep exports for slaughter stopped in 2003 but in the following year Labour began to negotiate a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia to resume those exports.

"The papers show Labour knew it had a Saudi investor in New Zealand who was operating a breeding programme of sheep for export to Saudi Arabia, so it sought to address that by resuming live exports.

"Labour started to negotiate a deal with Saudi Arabia to resume live exports 'on a commercial basis'."

He said the then-Foreign Minister travelled to Riyadh in 2006 when he told a Saudi minister that New Zealand was happy with the deal and had no objections to its conclusion in the near future.

"However, Labour then changed its position and acted in bad faith.

"The papers show Labour reviewed settings around live exports and made a deliberate decision not to inform Saudi Arabia about the review until after it was completed."

When asked why the Government didn't just release the papers to prove its claim Labour acted to avoid consequent legal action, Prime Minister John Key said that would be against officials' advice.

"I can't, because we rely on officials to advise us about the legal risks that New Zealand now faces."

Read the Cabinet papers released today by Labour MP David Parker

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs