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Newman: Bali Tragedy Prompts Questions At Home

Bali Tragedy Prompts Questions At Home

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman MP

When Helen Clark scrapped the air strike wing of the Royal New Zealand Airforce, she said, "Look at our strategic circumstances. Who could be in a more benign environment than in New Zealand?"

That's a question that Ms Clark should re-examine. Her first real opportunity to do so came on September 11, 2001. That date marked the first major strike on civilians in an international terrorist campaign against the western ideals of free trade, capitalism, freedom and democracy.

According to some who share the worldview to which our Prime Minister subscribes, the United States 'deserved' the terror attack because of its behaviour in other places in the world.

One year, one month and one day later, our own "benign environment" was struck. The bomb blast in the tropical holiday paradise of Bali shattered the Clark-inspired myth that New Zealand should adopt an isolationist stance, turning our backs on our traditional allies Australia and the United States. These events have served to remind us of the need to re-examine our international relationships in a straightforward and honest manner, recognising our nation's dependence upon reliable friends for intelligence information and protection.

We must also be frank about the environment in which we live. North of New Zealand is a vast spread of micro-island states, each on its own difficult path. Right above Australia, volatile Indonesia and Papua New Guinea spread their shadows. And beyond that, South East Asia simmers.

Before Bali, it was most convenient for our nation's leaders to close their eyes to the threat of outside interference in these nations. We can no longer do so. The threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism has been graphically evident for over a decade. We can not take the 'bludger's option' and rely on our neighbour Australia without offering anything in return. And with no air combat force, and run-down military equipment, what can we offer any ally?

As well as foreign affairs policies, I believe the response to Bali exposed differences between Australia Prime Minister John Howard and our own Helen Clark, of a far more personal nature.

In spite of the original estimates that as many as 300 New Zealanders were unaccounted for with some having lost their lives, neither the Prime Minister nor her Ministers here visited Bali to show their respect. In a move that smacks of her reaction to the September 11th tragedy where she carried on with a junket around Europe, Helen Clark has not followed the lead of the Australian Prime Minister and gone to the scene of the tragedy, but carried on with her present junket to Cairo.

While our thoughts are with those families who have been caught up in the tragic events in Bali - and now those in the Philippines - we need to turn our minds to the matter of internal security.

Following September 11 the Waikato Times reported that the FBI and the SIS were investigating the actions of some immigrants suspected of being involved in terrorism. While we don't know the outcome, the case brings to mind questions over how robust the scrutiny of new immigrants from the Middle East really is.

Of particular concern is this government's enthusiasm for accepting refugees from the Tampa. These were people who by-passed the normal immigration process - queue jumpers in fact - that Australia would not accept and who should have been sent back to Afghanistan. Instead, Helen Clark welcomed them with open arms. The Government tries to claim that proper security checks were carried out but, as is widely known, there are many countries where so-called security clearances can be readily bought and are not worth the paper they are written on.

In spite of Labour's isolationist ideology, as a Government the party is charged with the responsibility to protect our nation. I believe this means they must take a cautious approach to immigration and re-visit their decision to downgrade the Airforce.

Now, more than ever, New Zealand needs an air-strike capability to protect our country, and a commitment to pull our weight in regional defence activities.

You can view the archive of Columns at the ACT website

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