No, it’s not a chess move – it’s the answer we should give whenever questions become awkward

Gotta say it will be tempting to use the Sumanta defence, whenever Alf is asked for information he would rather not disclose, because it would be politically harmful, embarrassing, or simply because answering silly questions can be tiresome.

Yeah, we MPs are supposed to be accountable to our electorates as their representatives, as part of the democratic process.

Being held accountable can involve having to explain ourselves.

But if the Defence Ministry can get away with saying an issue is too sensitive for comment, then dammit, Alf can do it too.

He will be bringing the Sumanta defence to the attention of our ministers and suggest they make much more use of it, too.

The consequence is that Question Time henceforth would be much less fun for politics buffs and commentators.

Nothing would be disclosed about anything, because each Opposition question would be foiled with the response: “This issue is too sensitive for me to comment.”

But our Ministers would be much less stressed than they are now, when Opposition and media are braying for answers.

Alf’s attention was drawn to the application of the Sumanta defence this morning, when Radio NZ (in a report here) was banging on about the grievances of an outfit called the Indonesian Human Rights Committee.

This mob describe themselves as –

A solidarity organisation which aims to build links between people of New Zealand and Indonesia by distributing information and by organising activities such as letter writing and petition campaigns, meetings, film showings and tours of visiting activists.

The commission is telling Radio NZ (and anyone else who will listen, no doubt) it was shocked to discover a member of Indonesia’s special forces unit had trained with the New Zealand Defence Force.

Dunno why that should be shocking, but human rights people are easily shocked, it seems.

Anyway, their complaint on this occasion is about a bloke called Sumanta.

Major Edwin Sumanta of the Kopassus special forces recently attended New Zealand’s premier military educational institution, Command and Staff College at Trentham.

The committee says the acceptance of the officer onto an elite training programme marks a new low.

Spokesperson Maire Leadbetter says Kopassus has a long and bloody record of violations including the killing of New Zealand cameraman Gary Cunningham in 1975.

She says the Government is sending the wrong message to Indonesian authorities.

To the contrary, we could be sending the right message.

Alf imagines an Indonesian major being trained in this country would be instructed in many things that might not be included on the curriculum in his (or her) home country.

For example, he should go back home with a healthy understanding of the need to distinguish a cameraman from an enemy soldier.

A bloke with a camera, for example, is best treated as a cameraman whereas a bloke with a firearm should be regarded as someone who might take a pop at you, depending on what side he is on.

If our training is up to scratch, which it is bound to be, the major would have been told it is naughty to shoot cameramen. It is also naughty to shoot many other people he might bump into, including human rights campaigners (so long as they are unarmed).

But an enemy soldier, when properly identified as an enemy soldier, is fair game.

Something to this effect might have been included in the official explanation when the Defence spin doctors were questioned about the bloke from Indonesia.

But no. They engaged in some deft stone-walling and said absolutely nothing.

A Defence Force spokesperson says the involvement of Major Sumanta in the college’s course is too sensitive to comment on.


This tack should have been taken when we were first questioned about the classroom fuss, for example.

And let’s imagine what the ACC would be looking like if the Sumanta defence had been invoked when we were first questioned about the ACC brouhaha…

Nick Smith would still be a minister, the ACC board would still be intact, the ACC would not be looking for a new chief executive.

And it’s so simple. We just have to smile sweetly and say sorry, that’s too sensitive.

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