Biosecurity Minister shows signs of a foot-in-mouth affliction – it doesn’t require culling but will he be put out to pasture?

According to his critics, Damien O’Connor may well have contracted a nasty dose of foot-in-mouth disease.

Whether his personal struggle with the condition is good or bad for a bloke who happens to be our Minister of Biosecurity is arguable.  The portfolio requires the Minister and his ministry to ensure against foot-and-mouth disease sneaking into the country (among a formidable list of threatening pests and diseases).

Foot-and-mouth is much more virulent than foot-in-mouth and an outbreak on our farms would be calamitous for the economy.

Foot-in-mouth, on the other hand, is common among politicians and tends to be more damaging to the afflicted politician and his/her party than to the national economy.

Accordingly, when it is detected, the authorities do not declare an emergency and immediately put down the politician and cull every other beast within a certain distance, as would happen with livestock, although a polls-sensitive PM might be tempted to demote the culprit and put him or her out to pasture on the back benches.

Mind you, a politician might be accused by Opposition politicians or media commentators of having foot-in-mouth disease when others think the accused politician’s remarks were eminently sensible.

Damien O’Connor found himself embroiled in a trans-Tasman brouhaha when he suggested Australia could improve its relationship with China by following this country’s lead and showing more respect to the Asian powerhouse.

This followed Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta offering to mediate a truce between feuding Australia and China.

Point of Order commentators were among those who reckoned O’Connor and Mahuta both had made ill-considered remarks, but Newshub drew our attention to an article headed Australia could learn a lot from New Zealand’s foreign policy, international relations expert says…

The Newshub report showed the expert was echoing what our Ministers had said:

An international relations expert says Australia could learn a lot from New Zealand’s foreign policy and should reflect on the two countries’ differences instead of dismissing them.

The expert was Melissa Conley Tyler, an expert in diplomacy at the University of Melbourne and former national executive director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA).

In a column for the AIIA titled ‘Is Australia Humble Enough to Learn from New Zealand?’, Tyler says the countries are close in geography and culture but often have different interests.

She recalled the 90-year dispute over apples, but didn’t mention under-arm bowling, Phar Lap or pavlovas.

Then she wrote:

“ … because of the close economic relationship and because Australians like New Zealand so much, the presumption is that they’ll always get on.

“In fact, there is a lot to learn from taking Australia’s and New Zealand’s differences seriously rather than dismissing them.”

Those differences include NZ’s complaints over Australia’s ‘501’ deportation policy and Jacinda Ardern’s blasting Australia for stripping the citizenship of a dual national linked to Islamic State who may soon be deported from Turkey to New Zealand.

Tyler noted that New Zealand still has a strong relationship with China despite it being a Five Eyes partner, criticising the Middle Kingdom on its treatment of the Uighurs and activities in Hong Kong, and stopping Huawei from having a role in its 5G network.

“One lesson is that New Zealand appears to put diplomacy at the centre of foreign policy rather than privileging security and defence,” she says. 

“Diplomacy starts from realism: accepting that you’re unlikely to be able to change the basic nature of other countries and trying to get the best for your country that you can.”


“There’s a lot there for Australia to reflect on. Last week New Zealand received its best-ever placing in an international index of soft power, partly on the back of its well-publicised performance handling COVID-19 and the ‘Jacinda factor’,”

But we have yet to see O’Connor defended for saying Covid-19 has taught the tourism industry “not to be so cocky” after a slump in international tourism saw it lose its spot as the top export earner to the dairy industry.

“We have just gone through an amazing 12-month period in our country where we have learnt a lot about ourselves, as people, as a community and as sectors and industries,” O’Connor told an audience of agricultural leaders and politicians at Central Districts Field Days in Feilding on Friday.

“The tourism industry learnt not to be so cocky, that’s not to go around saying how great they are and how big they are, cause it can change,” said O’Connor, who has previously held the role of tourism minister.

The Stuff report of these remarks noted that the dairy and tourism industries have vied for the spot as the top export earner over the years, with the dairy industry overtaking tourism in the year to the end of March 2020 with export earnings of $16.2 billion to tourism’s $15.9b. Tourism had been in the top position since June 2015.

“The industry is very proud of its battle and ultimately its lead over dairy as the single biggest export earner of our country, and I guess that’s a healthy competition,” O’Connor said after his speech.

 National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay has taken issue with the Minister, saying:

“His comments are tone deaf and out of touch with the devastation that’s taking place in tourism under his Government’s watch. They are reflective of a Government that’s sitting by as hardworking Kiwis and their businesses go to the wall.

“This week more Kiwis will be forced to lay off their staff and close their businesses. They are not cocky.”.

McClay was behind the times when he said tourism was our largest export earner and employed more than 400,000 people. Perhaps he hadn’t read the aforementioned Stuff report.

But he knows how to whip up emotions:

“Hardworking Kiwis have borrowed against their houses and poured their life savings into keeping their businesses afloat.

“They need a Government that will support them until visitors return. Instead what they’ve got is their own Tourism Minister telling them to close up and another senior Minister that they were cocky.

“Australia has worked out tourism is worth saving. They’ve offered extra support to their sector including half price flights to boost local tourism and they welcomed Kiwis to their shores in October last year.

“Meanwhile our Government is being dragged towards a trans-Tasman bubble, but its lack of urgency will mean it’ll come too late for many.

Tourism needed a real plan and urgent action now, not repeated criticism from the Government, McClay said.

Kiwis who were losing their businesses and livelihoods deserved better.

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