By Denis Bright
In a crowded news week, the whistle stop in Canberra by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins of New Zealand (NZ) may have gone under the radar in many households. Even fewer readers would have watched the joint news conference at parliament house or Sarah Ferguson’s interview with Chris Hipkins on the 7.30 Report.
At a Joint Press Conference in Canberra on 7 February 2023, Anthony Albanese and Chris Hitchins made a convivial commitment to the closest Trans-Tasman ties on all fronts. This includes defence ties and joint participation in the Five Eyes (FVEY) which has an Oversight and Review Council (FIORC) to achieve added co-ordination between the strategic responses of these anglophone countries.
Both leaders at the press conferences upheld FVEY traditions to ensure that responses to the very limited interactions with the media did not stray into controversial areas.
Prime Minister Albanese showed respect for NZ’s long established nuclear weapon and nuclear ship ban as an aftermath to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour on 10 July 1985 by French intelligence operatives. The photographer on the Greenpeace vessel was killed in this incident and one other person injured.
There was not a ripple of public dissent between the two leaders over NZ’s continuing ban on the entry of nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vessels into NZ ports. This policy was restated by the visiting NZ Prime Minister. Prime Minister Albanese remained committed to Australia’s participation in AUKUS and to negotiations over the acquisition of nuclear submarines from the US and Britain.
Australia’s tolerance of differing Trans-Tasman perspectives on nuclear ship visits and transits of nuclear weapons should also extend to a tolerance of different perspectives of the forthcoming nuclear ships deal across the broader Labor Movement. However, the nuclear submarine deal still has overwhelming support in all demographics in Australia. It is one unfortunate policy skeleton from the Morrison Government which still affects our future strategic directions. Full details of the opinion polling authorized by the Lowy Institute are available and I cannot find any real chinks in the vitality of the old policy skeleton.
Writing for The Interpreter (22 July 2022) which is published by the Lowy Institute, Marianne Hanson urged the federal government to tread more cautiously before its final choices about the timing and composition of any nuclear submarine fleet.
Wriggle-room against Australia’s commitment to the nuclear submarine fleets were available from the enormous additional costs of the initial deal, the financial and safety risks of maintaining shore installations, reservations from Pacific and ASEAN countries as well as damage to our reputation as a country which supported a nuclear weapons ban in the Indo Pacific Region.
While remaining in FVEY, NZ has been outside the formal loop of the US Global Alliance. NZ has also co-operated with Australia under arrangements established by the Hawke Government in 1985 with the formation of the Australia-United States Ministerial Council (AUSMIN) to replace the original ANZUS Alliance.
AUSMIN was sold to dissident members of the Labor caucus in 1985 as operating in the best traditions of continued consultation between strategic partners which has been a feature of the original ANZUS Agreement. The strategic commitments and history of AUSMIN are covered in some detail on its web site:
Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) is the principal forum for bilateral consultations with the United States. Held regularly, alternating between Australia and the United States, AUSMIN brings together the Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence with the US Secretaries of State and Defense, along with senior officials from both portfolios.
The consultations provide a major opportunity to discuss and share perspectives and approaches on major global and regional political issues, and to deepen bilateral foreign security and defence cooperation.
Having tested the waters on the formation of AUSMIN, the Hawke Government proceeded to make cosmetic changes to the management of the Pine Gap Intelligence Base. It was to be promoted as an instrument for the monitoring of nuclear weapons globally (Parliamentary Statement from Bob Hawke 22 November 1988). Decades later, Daniel Hurst of The Guardian (10 February 2022) offered a statement from former British spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove on the operational roles of the Pine Gap Base which are far more extensive than a commitment to peace and disarmament.
Critical reservations about proposed nuclear submarine fleet have come from both Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating (Katherine Murphy and Daniel Hurst in The Guardian- 2 February 2023).
Malcolm Turnbull declared that Australians should reasonably expect that military capabilities acquired by their government should be sovereign capabilities without the need for US technical operators to monitor our naval commanders under the guise of providing on-board technical assistance.
With more media investigation, the Australian electorate could drift closer to NZ’s stance on nuclear ship visits and the presence of nuclear weapons in domestic ports. Taking up the challenge of frank and fearless criticism of these financial costs and threats to our national sovereignty is a vital challenge.
NZ Labour in government can perform these roles and remain ahead in opinion polling. Since the retirement of Jacinda Ardern, Tess McClure of The Guardian in Auckland has detected an improvement in Labour’s election chances (31 January 2023):
New Zealand’s Labour party has seen a boost in its popularity after the resignation of Jacinda Ardern, according to two new polls, in some of the party’s best results in a year.
The polls, released on Monday night, are the first to be taken in the wake of Ardern’s shock exit, and show a rise in support for both the party and the new prime minister Chris Hipkins, who assumed office last week and immediately faced catastrophic flooding in New Zealand’s biggest city.
In the 1 News Kantar poll, the Labour party gained five percentage points, polling at 38% – one point ahead of the centre-right National party, and Labour’s best result since January 2022. Another poll, conducted by Newshub-Reid Research also showed Labour on 38%, up 5.7 points.
The Hipkins Government has inherited a struggling but growing economy after months of lock-down during the COVID-19 crisis. (Image: Trading Economics):
Percentage Changes in Quarterly Economic Growth
Compared with other countries that identify with the US Global Alliance, New Zealand has a high degree of independence in its foreign and strategic policies.
Tess McClure of The Guardian (16 September 2021) anticipated that Australia’s future fleet of nuclear-powered submarines would be denied access to New Zealand ports.
With the New Zealand elections approaching, NZ Labour policies on strategic policies have partially infiltrated the National Party in Opposition. Former National Party Prime Minister John Keys visited China in 2022 and made the following declarations to Newshub (17 October 2022):
“Overall, in the last 10 to 20 years, China has done a good job of lifting a huge part of its population out of poverty”.
The CCP has had a “very strong focus” on lifting people out of poverty and economic growth, Sir John said, as well as on improving opportunities for the “least well-off in China”.
“China has also been very focused on what is required for growth to take place. And it’s very difficult,” he said.
“To do that you should have the infrastructure to support it. The Belt and Road Initiative has been quite an important initiative, not only because it links China with Europe, but also because their infrastructure is critically important to allow non-inflationary, highly productive growth to take place.”
Australian leaders are fully aware of the fact that our country is even more dependent on economic ties with China when compared to NZ. 43 per cent exports went to China in 2021. Australia took 29 per cent of its imports from China to give Australia an extraordinary and positive trading balance. This is being supplemented by the return of Chinese students to our universities and the arrival of more Chinese tourists later in 2023-24.
NZ has moved in a similar direction in financial relations with China and actually encourages more Chinese investment. NZ is less affected by the Machiavellian taxation practices of Anglo-American companies. Leakages from legalized tax avoidance practices have been cut to 0.6 per cent of taxation take on old estimates from business analyst, Tom Pullar-Strecker (23 November 2020).
Given the superb media profile of Chris Hipkins on his recent whistle stop visit to Canberra, the NZ Prime Minister will be around for a long time in government after the forthcoming national elections on 14 October 2023. As one of the world’s more youthful leaders, Chris Hipkins can think on his feet in his tactful commitments to national sovereignty and greater financial accountability.
Journalists should continue to challenge the Albanese Government’s certainties on this issue with support from responsible academics like Marianne Hanson with support from sections of the crossbench.
Through more inquiry and discussion in Australia more of Chris Hipkin’s strategic policies would probably gain more support here. Political change is strongly media driven and Sarah Ferguson’s follow-up interview with Chris Hipkins on 8 February 2023 showed outstanding commitment to the remnants of media independence. The structures of strategic power and influence are so overwhelming that it will take more than a miracle to overturn political agreements made in the dying days of the Morrison ascendency.
Across the Tasman, Chris Hipkins is also vulnerable to any slippage in NZ Labour’s primary vote under that country’s complex proportional voting system which is an ongoing skeleton from the National Party’s successful referendum in 1993.
Only the progressive media is still around to keep taps on the operatives from the intelligence services while Edward Snowden languishes somewhere in detention for exposing dirty secrets which are in effect a drift back to pre-democratic ways as noted by Wesley Chai for Whals.com which is worth a quick read.
FVEY also receives records of user data from large technology companies – including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, AOL, Skype and Apple. Each member country has three to five government agencies involved; each agency is responsible for one to two roles, including human intelligence, defense intelligence, security intelligence, geo-intelligence and signal intelligence.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.
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