Thursday, July 28, 2005

NZ stands up

From time to time I'll be bringing up New Zealand affairs here to celebrate my personal New Zealand connection (she'd prefer to be called a partner, though). Much of interest is happening there these days, particularly with respect to the indigenous Māori, who have only just been deprived of their treaty rights to the foreshore and seabed of Aotearoa (their name for NZ), and many of whom have, in consequence, formed a political party liable to pick up some seats in the looming national elections and possibly even hold the balance of power.

Indeed, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on aboriginal logging rights, effectively confiscating First Nations land by setting an impossibly high bar for title, has similar resonances, although I hasten to add that the histories and circumstances differ considerably. What remains the same, of course, is the deadweight legacy of colonialism still carried on the backs of Māori there and First Nations here.

But today, something completely different: the NZ parliament has just upheld a 20-year ban on nuclear-powered vessels docking in NZ ports, effectively continuing to shut out US nuclear submarines. The country may be polarized on the Māori issue, with the opposition National Party shamelessly playing the race card (blathering on about "special privileges," allegedly outmoded treaty rights, etc.--sound familiar?). But on the nuclear question, they closed ranks so tightly you couldn’t get a sheet of paper between them: the vote was a crushing 109-9.

When the legislation first passed in 1985, after years of street protests, Washington suspended military ties with Wellington, and no US navy vessel, nuclear or otherwise, has ventured there since. It remains a popular measure, and indeed the beleaguered Prime Minister Helen Clark, of the ruling Labour Party, may well see it as an issue in the upcoming campaign, hinting darkly that National leader Don Brash will abolish the measure if he wins office. Indeed, in an unguarded moment, he once said that if he were elected, the ban would be "gone by lunchtime." For his part, he has said he will do nothing without a national referendum on the matter. The two parties, in fact, are neck-and-neck in the polls.

Here's another similarity between our two countries: the US taking a dim view of their military capability:

While the Clark government argues its 10-year military procurement plan will modernise the Defence Force after years of neglect, the nature of those equipment purchases and whether they allow New Zealand to play any meaningful role in the region beyond "soft" peace-keeping duties worries both Washington and Canberra.

And the similarities don't end there:

In a reversal of Theodore Roosevelt's famous dictum of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, [out-going US Ambassador] Charles Swindells talked surprisingly tough in warning the relationship was "starved of trust" and drifting backwards.

Finally, anyone here remember the flag debates with fondness?

Maybe there's a basis here for a resuscitated federation of nonaligned nations.

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