‘Nuclear-free moment’ a bad climate analogy

Dave Frame, Professor of Climate Change and Director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, says that Jacinda Ardern’s analogy of climate change being this generation’s ‘nuclear-free moment- is a bad analogy.

Climate change is a slow burn rather than a mushroom blast.

Newsroom: Climate change a slow burn issue

The Government has promised to make climate change a priority area, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arguing climate change will be this generation’s “nuclear-free moment”.

This is a bad analogy, for several reasons. One is that leadership implies followers, and in the case of the nuclear-free policy no country explicitly followed our lead. Much more significantly, it confuses a short-term political momentum issue (the nuclear-free declaration) with a long-term political structural issue (decarbonisation).

Climate change shares far more in common with other slow-burn issues like pension reform, intergenerational tax and benefit arrangements, and monetary policy than it does with suffrage movements or the nuclear-free policy. ‘Moment’ movements are predicated on single-shot legislative change. Slow-burn issues depend on the ability of democracies to resist the temptation to indulge now and pay later (or ask others to pay later).

Decarbonisation will take several decades, at least.

That sounds realistic – something some Green MPs and especially supporters should have a good think about.

Globally, it will involve concentrated costs on those leading the decarbonisation, while the benefits are diffused. This is just the sort of problem in which there are political incentives, often strong incentives, to renege on your commitment to conduct ambitious climate policy.

True bipartisanship is a commitment to a process. It requires mutual forbearance and the sharing of burdens and benefits.

Bipartisanship is not just a good idea; it’s the only plausible way to manage the socioeconomic transformation climate change demands.

Ardern is right that we should look to policy innovations in our past. But to look at politically divisive single-shot total victories would be a mistake.

And we should ease up on the idea that those who don’t share our specific vision of a low-carbon economy are moral degenerates.

All of that points towards a long-term, bipartisan commitment towards the development of institutions capable of creating and sustaining broad support for prices and regulations where the temptation to overturn those policies will be strong.

This is going to take serious, sustained leadership rather than announcing analogies that may sound catchy but miss the serious points that need to be worked on.

Middlemore hospital sewerage problems were politicised shit fight

Claims that sewerage had leaked into the walls of buildings at Middlemore Hospital and were an alarming health risk created headlines, but afterwards questions were more quietly asked. It has now been claimed that the sewerage scares were not correct.

It turns out to be much ado about not much, with no sewerage at all in walls – according to the latest claims.

So where did the alarming claims from? Was this deliberate shitty politics?

NZH: Middlemore Hospital sewage leak a ‘stain on the ground’

A multitude of building issues at Middlemore Hospital and the extent of them have been revealed recently: Rot and toxic mould caused by leaking, asbestos, seismic and power supply issues – and sewage leaks.

Manukau District Health Board said reports about the extent of the two sewage leaks in the Scott Building last year were not correct, and they were not ongoing issues.

“We can confirm that despite the dramatic language that has been used around sewage issues at Middlemore Hospital, the sewage leaks were small.”

One was so small it was cleaned up with water.

“There was no sewage spilling into the building, just some staining on the ground within the soil stack duct. To clean it up, engineering had to mix water on it, so the quantity was less than a bucket,” the DHB said in a statement.

Health Minister David Clark told the Herald he had been repeatedly reassured by the DHB that there was no risk to patients from the leaks.

“They have a plan in place to manage the challenging set of infrastructure they have and that is their responsibility to manage that.”

So things are not as bad as was made out – but politicians jumped in to use the reported leaks as an example of huge problems  caused by the last government’s lack of funding.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the situation at Middlemore is emblematic of a much wider problem in health, and Clark said the DHB’s issues were not much different to those faced by health boards around the country.

The Middlemore saga may already have cost acting board chairman Rabin Rabindran and another board member their jobs. Clark has asked them to make submissions on their positions but Rabindran has reportedly already told the minister he no longer wants it.

A casualty of the political bickering.

Clark now says he doesn’t want to “quibble” about the past but instead wants to focus on the job in front of him.

A sensible approach – but it would have been better to have taken this approach before turning the sewerage leak into a political shit fight.

One could cynically wonder whether budget health funding has now been secured.

NZH has a different headline online: The real story behind sewage ‘leak’ at Middlemore Hospital

Good on them, but this is weeks after the story broke  – shouldn’t media determine what the real story is before rushing to headlines?

Peters: Commonwealth leaders excited about trade agreement

Winston Peters has said that Commonwealth leaders are excited about a putting a 53 trade agreement together, and want to start before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union next year – but I don’t think the UK can start trade deals until they are out of the EU.

RNZ: Excitement over Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is talking up the prospect of a free trade agreement between all 53 commonwealth nations after discussions in London over the weekend.

New Zealand is already working on trade agreements with Britain and the European Union as Brexit looms, but Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said there was a lot of excitement at CHOGM about a possible free trade agreement between all the commonwealth nations.

He said leaders want to get started on the deal before the UK leaves the EU next March.

“There’s a whole lot of excitement about that and how we might begin to put some flesh to an idea, which was levelled two years ago, but since 23 June 2016 it’s become real and so that was very exciting.

“A whole lot of countries – without saying too much about it – realise there’s something very exciting and new about this,” he said.

That’s an odd statement – he thinks they are all excited without saying much?

It would be a big task putting a deal together with so many countries. It would need to be quite general and could be relatively limited. Otherwise there could be a lot of inter-country details to work out.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was potential in the deal, but New Zealand’s main focus was on the EU and UK Free Trade Agreements – which represent $15 billion and $5bn in trade.

“That’s where we’re focused, but at the same time we do see there being benefit to us continuing to nudge along the fact that where we have these platforms – as we have with the East Asia summit and the Pacific Alliance – that actually the platforms provide a good starting point for a discussion around trade.”

Ardern is one leader who doesn’t seem as excited as Peters suggests, but maybe she could get absolutely excited at nudging it along.

The UK and EU agreements are expected to take years to work out, and if the main focus is on them then a Commonwealth wide agreement could take a long time – quite possibly longer than Peters is a Minister.

National Party trade spokesperson Todd McClay said he was hopeful of Commonwealth discussions, but was wary of so many players being involved.

“India hasn’t done a high-quality free trade deal with any country of the world yet, it would be really good if they would do one with New Zealand.

“I’m just a bit cautious around how much progress could be made Commonwealth-wide, because the more parties you put around a table the greater the challenges. We saw that with TPP,” he said.

Mr McClay also said any notion that a Commonwealth deal could be struck before Brexit took place was impossible.

“That’s just not going to happen – TPP with just 12 countries took nine years to negotiate, the countries were similar, the Commonwealth are very different types of economies and very different parts of the world.

“It is worth us being part of that conversation and helping to move it forward, but it can’t go before our desire for a free trade agreement with the UK and with the European Union,” he said.

It may be difficult for Peters to sustain his excitement.

Ardern wearing a korowai in London

Jacinda Ardern got the full royal treatment by the Queen, Prince Charles, various leaders and the media covering her trip to the United Kingdom last week to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government summit. At one event she wore a korowai (Māori cloak), which prompted mostly praise but also some criticism.

It’s hard to know what all that was supposed to mean.

BBC: Why Ardern’s Maori cloak, worn to meet the Queen, delighted New Zealand

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a traditional Maori cloak to meet the Queen, it had quite a few people scratching their heads – and most New Zealanders glowing with pride.

It’s a korowai, a garment woven with feathers and steeped in history, tradition and cultural significance.

The photos of Ms Ardern wearing the korowai have generated a wave of pride, enthusiasm and support online, with people praising it as “stunning” and “beautiful”, while New Zealanders have been filled with pride and respect.

“It makes me really emotional,” Ranui Ngarimu, a senior weaver with the Nga Tahu Maori tribe, told the BBC. “It’s a real acknowledgment of the prestige and power of a woman.”

“To wear something that is so intrinsically of this place here, and for her to wear it at that event knowing that she would be photographed from every angle, that’s a real acknowledgment of her relationship with the Maori people and with New Zealand.

“Korowai are a very special form of cloak,” explains Vini Olsen-Reeder, himself a Maori and a lecturer at Victoria University. “There are lots of different kinds of cloaks, but the korowai is the one with the highest prestige.”

Traditionally, it would be awarded only to people from the upper echelons of Maori society, or given as a gift to people from outside the community if they were thought to be of equally high standing.

In this case the korowai was given to Ms Ardern by a Maori group in London, for her to wear at the Commonwealth Summit.

“The significance of the garment is the prestige that comes with it,” agrees Donna Campbell, lecturer in Maori studies at Waikato University in Hamilton.

“What it represents is the mana of a person, that’s the prestige and power of the person wearing it. So for Jacinda to be wearing it at this event is completely fits with the weight of the occasion; from a Maori point of view, this garment is entirely appropriate.”

It is not unprecedented for non Māori women to wear korowai:

Queen Elizabeth II wearing a korowai, 1954

Queen Elizabeth II wearing a korowai, 1954

Queen Elizabeth II was gifted a korowai (woven cloak) during her first tour of New Zealand in 1953–54. New Zealand does not have a specific national dress, but Māori cloaks are often worn by dignitaries as a symbol of the country.

There has been some criticism, like Cultural Appropriation Much? Jacinda Ardern’s Maori Cloak

Cultural appropriation is where the members of a dominant grouping in society use and – well, appropriate – take the signifiers of the culture of an oppressed or dispossessed part of society.

We do, after all, have to insist that the Maori are oppressed in New Zealand society. Absolutely nothing at all about politics there makes sense without agreeing with that point. Ardern is one of the oppressing class, descended as she is from Northern Europeans doing all that oppressing. And her wearing a Maori cloak is obviously appropriation from that non-dominant culture.

This also got an airing at Reddit:

Something I don’t see addressed here is the origin of the cloak, I work in an organisation with a strong Maori presence and culture, in many cases people outside of Maori culture in the organisation have been gifted similar items by the Maori people for their service, this is where it stops being appropriation and becomes appreciation.

If she bestowed it on herself or other white people bestowed it on her though then that’s a whole shit show.

While Ardern was given the korowai to wear on the occasion it is quite common seeing them worn at graduations, and you can ‘bestow a korowai on yourself’ – Academic Dress Hire: Korowai

We are now selling Korowai, which are stunning cloaks that look great on graduation day, and make a fantastic family heirloom. The cloaks come with an export certificate should you wish to take them overseas. The cloaks come in various colours and there is a significant amount of work that goes into each Korowai.

It is worn as a mantle of prestige and honor. Everyone has different reasons for wearing Korowai on their graduation day whether it be a sense of identity, a graduation acknowledgement, a congratulatory gift, a connection to our NZ heritage or family tradition.

We are pleased to offer them to you at $700.00 incl.

The Māori dictionary suggests that usage has changed over time.

1. (noun) cloak ornamented with black twisted tags or thrums – the illustration is of the korowai, Te Whiringa Rongomaiwhiti, woven by Gloria Taituha of Ngāti Maniapoto. The feathers of the korowai are of pūkeko (dark blue) and kererū (white).

2. (noun) cloak – in modern Māori this is sometimes used as a general term for cloaks made of muka (New Zealand flax fibre).

He whero ngā huruhuru o te taha whakararo o ngā parirau o te kākā. Ka rangaa he korowai mō te tāngata whakahirahira i ēnei huruhuru (Te Ara 2014). / The feathers under the wings of kākā are red. These feathers were woven into cloaks for important people.

Korowai became popular in the 1800s, and were made out of things like dog skins and the feathers of birds like kiwi, kererū , kākāpō, tūī, kākāriki and kākā. I presume they use other things now.

I guess the koro in korowai comes from ‘term of address to an older man’ and not ‘bay, cove, inlet’ or ‘noose’.

‘Wai’ can mean ‘water’, ‘stream, creek, river’, or ‘tears’.

What may stand out on this occasion is that the Prime Minister wore one at an overseas political summit. I can’t recall or find anything about John Key being given a korowai to wear. Neither Helen Clark, nor any other Prime Minister.

But Ardern seems to have quickly become the queen of symbolism. Time will tell whether she and her Government become known for substance on Māori and other issues – and that will need to be earned by Ardern, not gifted.

Next head of Commonwealth a virtual fait accompli

The Commonwealth seems have had little choice but to accept Prince Charles as the next head of the Commonwealth after the Queen expressed her “sincere wish” that he take over from her. She has been the  token leader for a long time.

RNZ:  Prince Charles to be next Commonwealth head

The Prince of Wales will succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, its leaders have announced.

The Queen had said it was her “sincere wish” that Prince Charles would follow her in the role.

Leaders of the Commonwealth have been discussing the issue at a meeting behind closed doors at Windsor Castle.

The head role is non-hereditary so is not automatically passed on when the Queen dies, with some suggestions it might rotate among the 53 leaders.

In a statement, the leaders said they “recognise the role of the Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its people”.

Has the Queen really been a big champion of the Commonwealth?

Jacinda Ardern seems to have been swept up in royaltymania.

Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her predecessor Helen Clark, who are republicans, also backed Prince Charles saying keeping a British Royal in the figurehead role is a stable arrangement that has served the Commonwealth well.

Ms Ardern met Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwell, at their royal home earlier this week.

“I get a real sense from the interactions that I’ve had that his understanding of some of the challenges that we face in the Commonwealth is excellent, but particularly around environmental issues, which I think will only serve us well.”

Charles hasn’t stood as a champion of the environment to the people of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth represents about 2.4 billion people, but critics say the organisation is so disparate that it struggles to know what it is for, BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond said.

He also said the news of the prince’s appointment would be “of great satisfaction” to the Queen.

Perhaps  it makes her feel less guilty about keeping Charles waiting for the throne for so long – it’s a consolation bauble.

What does the head of the Commonwealth do?

The role, currently held by the Queen, is largely a symbolic one and carries no maximum fixed term.

It is used to unify the 53 member states and to ensure the core aims of the Commonwealth are fulfilled. These include linking the countries through trade and international co-operation.

The head of the Commonwealth usually makes regular visits to the member states to foster these connections personally.

That can’t be correct, the Queen hasn’t been here since 2003, and I think she does very little travel.

A decision on all successive heads has to be made by the Commonwealth leaders.

It was unlikely any would have spoken up against the wishes of the Queen.

Just as well it doesn’t give the prince any say over what we do here on the other side of the world.

The Standard: Prince Charles: mankind facing environmental ‘catastrophe’

Prince Charles today issued a stark warning that mankind faces “catastrophe” unless we learn to live in harmony with our environment. The prince says he fears we are “perilously close” to an environmental calamity that will ultimately result in the end of humanity unless we act now.

At least he can now lead the Commonwealth from the brink of catastrophe – but I’m not sure he has a lot of experience living in harmony with the environment. Maybe all his servants do that for him.

Premature ‘influential’ accolade for Ardern

Time Magazine has named Jacinda Ardern as one of the 1o0 most influential people in the world for 2018. Given that we are only in April this is premature – and I think it is far to soon to judge Ardern’s actual influence outside the celebrity circuit. At least she hasn’t been given a premature and ultimately undeserved Nobel prize as per Obama.

Time: Jacinda Ardern by Sheryl Sandberg

Just 11 countries out of almost 200 are led by a woman. Let that number sink in. That’s how hard it is for a woman to rise to lead a nation.

Last October in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern did it.

She was already a political prodigy. In 2008, she was elected the youngest member of the New Zealand Parliament. Now she’s the youngest female Prime Minister in the world. At a time when conservative politicians are ascendant across Europe and the U.S., she’s proudly progressive—with a raft of plans to fight economic inequality, address climate change and decriminalize abortion. She wasn’t supposed to win: she entered the election late, and her party’s approval ratings were low. Then a wave of “Jacindamania” swept the land.

And she’s expecting her first child this year.

In a world that too often tells women to stay small, keep quiet—and that we can’t have both motherhood and a career—Jacinda Ardern proves how wrong and outdated those notions of womanhood are. She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.

Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and author of Option B and Lean In

‘A raft of plans’ does not make a successful Prime Minister in New Zealand, let alone an influential world leader.

Fighting economic inequality and addressing climate change are lofty aims, but Ardern and her government are yet to prove that they can make a real difference on either. They may, but we are unlikely to be able to judge that to any degree in 2018, or probably 2019.

By the end of 2020 we will have time to see whether notable progress has been made on inequality and climate change (but both are long term projects), and whether Ardern has influenced New Zealand voters enough to win a second shot at continuing the reforms she has talked the talk on, but has barely stood up let alone walked the walk.

Other younger leaders that initially caused a stir, Emmanuel Macron of France and Justin Trudeau in Canada, have since found the going tough.

Funnily Ardern has written praise of Trudeau in the Time 100 influencers list.

There will be a few names globally that will become etched in our history books. They will be the names that mark the shift in our political landscape, when younger politicians took the reins and heralded a different type of politics. Justin Trudeau will be one of them. Youth alone is not remarkable, but winning over people with a message of hope and warmth, tolerance and inclusion, when other politicians the world over choose an easier route—that is remarkable.

Trudeau’s tenure as Prime Minister of Canada has hit speed bumps. As has Macron, but he also gets a good write up:

Just under a year ago, a 39-year-old underdog shook up French politics to become the youngest-ever President of the French Republic. His movement, built from scratch in just a few months, quickly doubled down by winning a large parliamentary majority, giving the new government a mandate for change.

Using this unique window of opportunity, President Macron has swiftly begun to implement an ambitious set of reforms intended to boost economic growth, reduce high unemployment and transform France into a more dynamic, competitive and inclusive economy. His vision of a strong Europe also has added fresh momentum to the integration effort—which has become all the more critical in our increasingly fragmented world.

Challenges abound. Migration, terrorism, climate, digital transformation and inequality are forcing new fault lines on our societies. But based on the policies he has implemented to date, I am convinced that Emmanuel Macron can help create the multilateral solutions that will make the planet a better place for all.

Also on the list of influencers are Donald Trump, Robert Mueller, Sean Hannity, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Plus a number actors, performers and sports people.

Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Kim Yong Un, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin don’t feature at all.

 

Labour-Green oil and gas naivety questioned

The Government announcement last that no more off shore oil and gas exploration permits would be granted was celebrated by the Greens and their allies (like Greenpeace), but it hasn’t received wide support. Questions are being asked of the possible negative effects, and the lack of planning or substance on the transition from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy.

Listener: Is the Govt’s ban on new oil and gas exploration brave or naive?

Just transition or heart over head?

The decision to stop issuing offshore oil and gas exploration permits was not pre-election policy. Although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was musing privately months ago about the politics of such a move, it is barely a month since she broke from her formal programme to accept a petition from Greenpeace on the forecourt of Parliament.

Always with an eye to powerful imagery, Greenpeace backed the moment with pictures of history-changing Labour leaders of the past: Savage, Kirk, Lange and Clark. Ardern could enter that pantheon with a huge symbolic gesture designed to make real her claim that climate change is “this generation’s nuclear-free moment”.

She has done so, in a move that is at once measured and justifiable yet also naive and arguably cavalier with a major industry. No other country with a significant oil and gas industry has made such a decision.

…the naivety of the Government’s new policy is that it will not, of itself, reduce global carbon emissions, but could increase New Zealand’s if it leads to more coal use in the meantime.

It is disingenuous to claim that existing permits might sustain a healthy oil and gas sector until the 2040s. The fruitless hunt for major gas fields in the Great South Basin since the 1960s proves the point that exploration is expensive and usually unsuccessful.

But perhaps the biggest risk is the promise of a Government-led “transition” to new industries of the future. Airy ministerial talk of capital being redeployed to new activities is a carbon copy of Rogernomics-era rhetoric. Capital was redeployed, but not necessarily in New Zealand.

The Government is talking a big game on its ability to direct the emergence of such new industries, but its capacity to deliver this upside of transformative change is untested and the value of the industries it is disrupting is all too measurable.

While radical change was necessary then ‘Rogernomics’ was executed hurriedly with more hope or desperation than planning.

Tim Watkin takes the similarity with Rogernomics style reform-and-hope policies, as opposed to David Lange’s ‘anti-nuclear moment’ – Oil be alright. But has Labour learnt the wrong lesson from its past?

Jacinda Ardern has drawn on our national pride in New Zealand’s nuclear-free stance to rally support for her decision to end offshore oil drilling. But her announcement has echoes of Douglas and Prebble as much as Lange and Palmer

When Jacinda Ardern was asked to justify her government’s decision to stop issuing oil drilling permits forthwith she drew on a memory that sits deep in her party’s – and our country’s – soul. Our nuclear-free status. The decision for me, however, recalls another controversial move by that same fourth Labour government.

For Ardern and her team, so long out of government, it is a chance to do the sort of thing they expect Labour government’s to do. The moral thing. Policies that show vision and make the world a better place. What’s more, it shows leadership in the Pacific.

As with our nuclear-free policy, the decision to leave the oil where it is gives New Zealand the moral high ground, a sense of mission and it gets us noticed. It’s also similar in that it will also do next to nothing in the short term to change global behaviour or make the world safer.

Our nuclear-free stance has been largely symbolic, as will this stance be, unless or until the rest of the world follows suit.

Like Rogernomics, last week’s decision was announced with no real consultation and ruthless speed. There was no time for opponents to circle the tankers. Like Rogernomics, it moved Labour away from the safe centre and took it to the edge of mainstream politics. And like Rogernomics, they have shown no sign that they have planned for the consequences – forseeon or unforseen – of this policy.

Talk to members of the fourth Labour government today and few resile from the thrust of the economic reforms, but almost all wish they had done it differently. More slowly, with transition funding and re-training upfront. With more consultation. More commitment to not leaving some people on the scrapheap.

Sadly, there’s no sign this government has heeded that lesson. Not yet anyway. The announcement came with the zeal of the nuclear-free dream, but without the legwork. There was no transition fund announced. No plan to find new purposes for the people and their skills. No three year grace period, for example, in which the country’s fourth largest export-earning industry could start on what Greens co-leader James Shaw has promised will be a “gentle transition”.

One could forgive Shaw and the Greens for being naive, given their lack of experience in power. The same could be applied to Ardern – but as Prime Minister she should be better advised. She seems to have believed her lofty hype over leading a generational change on climate change.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the new Government was woefully unprepared for taking over. They have taken some quick and bold moves – like committing to major spending (handouts) for fee-free tertiary education – and leading the charge against climate change without any sign they know where this will take New Zealand economically.

But by embarking on this in a sudden, even sneaky, way and without a considered and consulted transition plan, it’s undermined the ‘what’ by buggering up the ‘how’. Labour has failed to learn from its own history. Or, at least, the part of its history Ardern says inspired this bold move. The question now is whether the government moves rapidly and with proper thought to live up to its promise of that “gentle transition”.

There is time for getting it right, or at least better and less risky, but there is no sign of this being recognised by the Government.

Another unlikely critic is Brian Fallow: Exploration ban a pointless, self-righteous policy

Resounding cheers greeted Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw when they went to Victoria University last Thursday to explain that morning’s announcement that no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits will be granted.

Gratifying to their ears, no doubt — but entirely undeserved.

This policy is self-righteous nimbyism, environmentally pointless, economically costly and politically counter-productive to the Government’s own agenda on climate change.

Tossing a trophy to the Green Party base, perhaps in the hope of reducing the risk that the Green vote gets wasted in 2020, smacks of ad hoc partisan politics as usual.

It is utterly at odds with the careful, consultative, consensus-seeking approach being pursued over the larger climate agenda.

James Shaw has set up a committee (according to National the 75th committee/group of this Government) to consult over climate change transition but as pointed out in Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions this notably lacks direct representation from the key farmer and oil & gas industries.

Is there anyone in Labour capable of doing the hard work necessary to make such a transformative  policy work successfully without too many risks and adverse effects?

With Shaw in charge of the Climate Change ministry the only Labour MP (apart from Ardern) with related responsibilities is Megan Woods as Minister of Energy and Resources, and Minister of Science and Innovation, things that will be (or should be) a prominent part of the climate change/fossil fuel transition.

Questions about Winston Peters and NZ’s foreign policy

Winston Peters negotiated the roles of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some of his positions, especially on Russia, have been controversial – and somewhat mysterious.

Guyon Espiner asks some pertinent questions, like What is Winston Peters’ foreign policy, anyway?

To outsiders New Zealand foreign policy must look like a riddle wrapped in a mystery, perhaps clear only to the enigmatic deputy prime minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

That phrase is, of course, butchered and borrowed from Winston Churchill, who was trying to decipher Russian intentions at the start of World War II.

The direction of New Zealand foreign policy under his namesake seems similarly opaque. This presents challenges for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in Paris and London this week, seeking to progress trade deals with the European Union (EU) and Britain.

The publicity from the trip is likely to be positive but beyond the photo-ops, what is New Zealand actually doing in foreign affairs?

Ardern is certainly getting plenty of photo op opportunities, and she hasn’t visited the Queen yet.

Unfortunately for the PM the narrative has been blown off course by the timebomb Peters placed in the coalition agreement – his wish for a free trade deal with Russia.

Against a back drop of Russian-Western conflict not seen since the Cold War, uncomfortable questions follow Ardern around Europe. Why, just weeks ago, was her country still clinging to the notion it could pursue a trade deal with Russia? Why did it take so long to drop the idea and why was it there in the first place?

An as yet unanswered mystery.

The demand to re-start the deal didn’t come from a free trade champion. Peters has largely opposed FTAs, including with South Korea and China.

Why did Peters cast doubt on Russia’s role in bringing down MH17 and meddling in the US elections? Why did the government insist there were no Russian spies here and buck the trend of its allies, who expelled Russian diplomats?

The questions continue after the missile strikes on Syria. While Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Canada’s Justin Trudeau support the strikes, New Zealand “accepts why” they occurred.

Perhaps this is what you’d expect from a coalition government with Labour at the helm.

Rather than blindly follow their Five Eyes friends they seek an independent path. That line can be traced from Helen Clark’s refusal to join the Iraq War in 2003 to the actions of David Lange and Norman Kirk in protesting nuclear weapons.

I don’t remember Kirk or Lange being as vague as Ardern.

And then there is Peters, who rarely gives straight answers.

What is it that Winston Peters wants to achieve in foreign policy?

Both New Zealand First and Labour opposed the TPP in opposition and then supported it in government with minor amendments.

It wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Labour was largely in favour of the TPP, despite their opposition when in Opposition. But NZ First’s back flip looks less logical.

The tweaks allowed them to ban foreigners buying New Zealand houses but that breached the existing FTA with Singapore. Will Singaporeans be exempt from the ban? Peters stopped by Singapore on his way to Europe this week. Has he settled it?

I can’t find any news reports of his Singapore visit, and he hasn’t put out any ministerial release.

And what of China? Will it be the job of Winston Peters to take the relationship forward?

Will China be receptive to Peters?  Important questions.

The deeper question is why he wants the job at all. The Greens chose portfolios which visibly align with their philosophies, such as climate change and conservation.

For the leader of a party called New Zealand First, which positions itself as a champion of provincial battlers, to take international affairs is a less obvious fit.

On the night he announced the government, Peters made dark noises about the failings of capitalism and the challenges facing the economy. And then he chose Foreign Affairs.

Trying to figure out Winston may be a fool’s errand.

Usually that is a supporting role to the prime minister, who is the country’s real voice on foreign policy. Peters could soon hold both jobs, while Ardern takes maternity leave.

That could be interesting – and it could be a risk. Who knows what he will say or do? Will Ardern? Does she work closely with him, or has he been given the freedom to do much as he pleases? Will he be making key decisions while acting PM?

Perhaps he’ll hand over foreign affairs to his under-secretary and party deputy Fletcher Tabuteau? Or maybe he’ll keep us guessing.

Asking Peters is unlikely to get many answers that are any use to clarifying New Zealand’s foreign policy. I don’t know if Tabuteau would be any better, especially with peters hovering around in charge of the country. If Ardern hands over control.

What experience does Tabuteau have with foreign policy and diplomacy? He was an economics lecturer and head of the business school at Waiariki Institute of Technology beforfe becoming an MP in 2014. No sign of offshore experience.

There are a number of important unanswered questions about both our foreign policy and our leadership over the next few months.

German reaction to Ardern visit

The visit if a prime Minister from a small remote country is not a big deal in Germany, but Jacinda Ardern has had some (relatively limited) coverage there. Collated by Geoffrey Miller in Twitter.

The ‘virtue-bombing’ of Syria

There has been a lot of questioning of what looked like a largely symbolic missile strike on Syria. Donald Trump in particular, with the aid of the UK and France, made a big deal about ‘mission accomplished’, with limited damage of questionable targets and no idea what the flow on effects might be.

There are suspicions there may have been collusion with Russia, and one could wonder if Syria even volunteered some harmless uninhabited targets. If the US knew there were chemical weapon laboratories where they claim them to be why did they wait until chemicals had allegedly been used against civilians?

I think a high degree of scepticism is warranted with any claims from any side of this murky Middle East mess.

However Brendan O’Neill at spiked is in little doubt. He claims: THE WEST’S VIRTUE-BOMBING OF SYRIA IS A DISASTROUS MISTAKE

Our governments have made themselves the allies of ISIS.

We’ve had virtue-signalling – now we have virtue-bombing. A military strike designed not to defeat an enemy, or take territory, or achieve any kind of tangible political goal, but rather to make a showy statement about our presumed moral decency. A violent tweet. The military wing of gesture politics. The pursuit of PR by other means.

The American, British and French assault on targets in Damascus at the weekend is an example of virtue-bombing. spiked is not a pacifist publication, but it is very clear to us that this is an act of war unanchored from geopolitical reason and ungoverned by the very basics of political judgement.

This joint intervention will do nothing to help the people of Syria and in fact could make their terrible lot worse. As even some in the pro-bombing camp recognise, taking out a few alleged chemical-weapons facilities will not stem the bloodshed in a war in which the vast majority of people are killed by conventional means.

And as they occasionally confess, weakening one alleged part of the Assad regime’s military apparatus will do nothing to dent the Assad-Russia-Iran alliance to win back Syrian territory from the various opposition forces, some of whom are disturbingly backward movements given to beheading dissidents, obliterating women’s liberty, and enforcing 7th-century diktats.

In fact it could end up strengthening that alliance, through escalating the ante so that this alliance is now not only concerned with defending Assad’s authority over Syria, but also with defending its own global and domestic reputations against a new militaristic alliance of Western powers.

…the second thing it will do is boost the very species of Islamist extremism that has in recent years declared existential war upon the West and which in Europe has massacred almost 500 people in the past five years alone. Such groups, rife in the vortex that Syria has become, will benefit directly from the Western alliance’s actions.

This is perhaps the most shocking element of the strikes on Damascus: they make Western powers and their media cheerleaders objectively into the allies of some of the darkest, foulest movements at work in the world today.

From ISIS to the Army of Islam to al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the movements lined up against Assad are far from the ‘rebels’ some Western media coverage would have us believe. They are ruthless religious extremists whose victory in Syria would make the Assad regime, with all its authoritarianism and anti-democracy, look like a pleasant memory in comparison.

These groups have enforced terrible rule in places like Raqqa, Ghouta and East Aleppo and have committed barbarous crimes against civilians, including, it is widely suspected, with their own use of chemical weapons. These outfits will welcome the Western alliance’s actions and will see the West’s heaped pressure on Assad as a green light to their own violent ideological push against the regime.

These air strikes are in essence a military wing of Islamist extremism, providing military cover and even moral rejuvenation to an anti-Assad movement that has virtually no positive qualities.

The many sided mess in Syria, along with the many country meddling, is likely to have been hardly affected by the missile strike. It might have served as a bit of a warning, but Trump has already said he wants the US out of Syria, so it could simply be seen as a hit and run.

It might have deterred the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, but they have plenty of other weapons of mass misery to deploy, as has been happening over the nine year long civil war.

Trump (and probably also May and Macron) was playing more to his domestic audience. What better way to divert from his substantial problems at home than to display military might on the other side of the world.

Syria appears to have been used as a cynical PR tool by the US. It could well be nothing more than virtue signalling, with very high risks attached (like the possibility of a superpower war).

And if Trump was virtuously concerned about the alleged chemical attack and reacted according to moral imperative that is also a worry, given the number of things he seems to be annoyed about. At least Twitter is relatively harmless.

A lot of what is happening in Syria far from harmless, and largely ignored by Trump.

It does have an appearance of cherry picking virtue bombing, with some major PR bombing to go with it.

Back here in New Zealand we have it well covered. Prime Minister Jacinda utterly accepts whatever.