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English Speech to Balclutha National Party AGM

Bill English Speech to Balclutha National Party AGM

Tonight, we are midway between Easter and Anzac Day. It's a time when we all reflect on the sacrifices that have been made - that are still being made - to achieve peace on earth.

It's a time for serious consideration of the role that we New Zealanders have played, and must continue to play, in the realm of international affairs.

In the past, we have not shirked our responsibilities.

New Zealanders have stood firm with our allies to resist tyranny and oppression in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.

We have paid a heavy price. Next weekend, we will all acknowledge the sacrifices made by New Zealanders and others to defend freedoms that we regard as the basic entitlement of every man, woman, and child on this planet.

Until now, we have never been fair-weather friends. I am ashamed to say that is what we are becoming under our current Government. As the war on terrorism moved inevitably closer to confrontation with Iraq, this government distanced itself from the clear need to call a halt to the internal and external terrorism being fostered by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Does anyone doubt that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?

The Kurds don't. The Iranians don't. Baghdad even admitted it had illegal stocks of VX nerve gas, shells for mustard gas, rockets capable of flying more than the permitted 150 kilometres.

Does anyone doubt that Saddam Hussein has sheltered and aided international terrorist groups?

The leader of the band of murderers who seized the Achille Lauro has been found in Iraq. Osama Bin Laden's trusted lieutenant Abu Musab al Zarqawi - the terrorist whose trainees were despatched on missions to Britain, Italy, Spain and France - received medical treatment in Baghdad.

Does anyone doubt that Saddam Hussein has spent 12 years defying the United Nations, by refusing to comply with the disarmament resolutions flowing from Iraq's attempted invasion of Kuwait?

The members of the UN weapons inspection teams are under no illusions. The members of the United Nations Security Council certainly have no doubt. That's why they passed Resolution 1441 last November - demanding that Iraq make full, final and complete disclosure of its arsenal within 30 days.

The resolution explicitly warned Saddam that failure to comply, false statements, or omissions and continued violations of previous UN resolutions would have serious consequences.

In the 30 days that followed, he was seen to break every requirement laid out by the Security Council.

Saddam effectively invited the United Nations Security Council to demonstrate what "serious consequences" really meant.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Portugal were willing to show him. Unfortunately, some other members of the Security Council were not.

Others would rather stop the clock than declare that Saddam's time was up.

The Coalition took the hard decision that the Security Council was not able to confront. Saddam now knows the meaning of the words "serious consequences" and the world is a safer place for it.

We also have seen the grim reality of war - and the pain and loss suffered by soldiers and civilians on both sides of the battle lines.

But while the wounded, the sick, the thirsty and the hungry of Iraq cry out for help, our Prime Minister has been drinking latte's with Chirac arguing over whether the UN or the US is in charge.

Had she made the right decisions - New Zealanders could be in Iraq today. We could be doing the things that we can do well: helping to re-establish order, tending the sick and wounded, clearing the dangerous debris, and repairing the human and material damage.

Our sympathy goes out to all the victims of this war - and our helping hands must follow.

I cannot extend the same sympathy to the armchair critics in our Government - the people who have found it easier to criticise our friends than to confront an enemy of the civilised world.

The Clark-Anderton Government has seated itself among them - much to the shame of many New Zealanders.

On Iraq, they have aligned us with Russia and France - one, a supplier of arms to Iraq, and the other, the only nation that has committed an act of State-sponsored terrorist against New Zealand. They have set us against our traditional allies: Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

We are in this position because the Clark-Anderton coalition is committed to a new brand of multilateralism where our sovereignty is lost to the whim of a single nation on the United Nations Security Council with the power of veto.

The UN has been and will be an important influence in world affairs, but its most serious deliberations are governed by the veto - a power that New Zealand has consistently opposed.

Now the Clark-Anderton brand of multilateralism is making us slaves to the veto.

It has put us in a situation where the French threat of veto effectively decided New Zealand policy on Iraq. And it is leading us down a wrong and dangerous path.

The National Party chooses a different path - a path that doesn't make us a slave to the veto, or require proof of overwhelming international consensus before we can action to protect New Zealand's interests, or the basic human values of a civilised world.

We believe in interdependence - in a New Zealand capable of making decisions in its national interest, mindful of world opinion, seeking our own coalitions of the willing, but retaining our sovereign right to make and support sensible decisions that cannot be vetoed by a single member of the UN Security Council.

More often than not, our interests in international affairs are shared by Australia in particular, and by the United Kingdom and by the United States.

That does not mean following mindlessly wherever they choose to go - but it does mean maintaining relationships that enable us to exercise some influence with them as we make our own decisions.

You don't do that by publicly insulting the President of the United States, and - by extension - the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia who joined him in the decision that the time had come to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Along with many others, I was disgusted to see Helen Clark continue to criticise our old allies when they were in their worst days of the Iraqi war.

On Anzac day, as we remember the many New Zealanders who sacrificed along with their peers from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States in defence of common interests, no doubt Helen Clark will turn out too.

But as she takes her photo opportunities, she needs to think how far she has removed herself from the Anzac tradition. That tradition wasn't born in the university seminar room or in the party rooms of Parliament. It was born from the sacrifice of men and women who were prepared to endure the horrors of war to defend the freedoms and values that they shared.

It is offensive to suggest that this war would not have happened if another politician had been leading the United States, but Helen Clark can't see that.

Just as she cannot see that such a statement is offensive to other political leaders who share that view and the burden taken on by the government of the United States.

Helen Clark says the war wouldn't have happened if Al Gore had been the President. In doing so, she suggests that President Bush is wrong, Prime Minister Blair is wrong, Prime Minister Howard is wrong. I believe that she is wrong.

Let me tell you what Al Gore was saying last September. At that time, he certainly didn't want the United States to go to war against Iraq. But what he did say was that America should "build an international coalition to join us in taking out Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion."

Gore called on Congress to urge the President to obtain fresh demands from the Security Council for prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time.

That's exactly what President Bush did. Prompt, unconditional compliance was demanded - but not achieved. The definite period of time expired. And an international coalition was built to take Saddam out in a timely fashion.

Sounds like Al Gore's September plan to me.

But Helen Clark says the war wouldn't have happened if Al Gore was in the White House.

Never mind, she thinks, no-one's noticed. But someone did.

In comes a note from Washington, asking for an explanation. The penny drops. Our Ambassador to Washington is instructed to apologise to anyone for any offence that the remark might have caused.

There's apparently no retraction of the comment. It's just a "sorry if you were offended by it" kind of non-apology. We're all expected to believe that's the end of the matter.

Well, that's not what my Opposition colleagues and I think. My suggestion that an apology should also be extended to John Howard - the closest of those three leaders - was met with one of those sneers that this Prime Minister is resorting to more and more often as the pressure comes on.

Questions about the precise nature of the apology offered to the President of the United States by the Prime Minister of New Zealand have also been stonewalled.

We are all entitled to better than that.

We are entitled to expect that a Prime Minister will weigh her words much more carefully on serious matters of war and peace. Clearly that has not been done.

We are entitled to expect that when a Prime Minister issues an apology to the President of the United States, New Zealanders should be advised precisely what led to such an unfortunate development and exactly what steps are being taken to rectify the problem.

Helen Clark's refusal to answer questions on this matter is an abrogation of a Prime Minister's responsibility to advise New Zealanders of what she is doing to protect and advance our nation's interests.

It is unacceptable behaviour. It threatens all the good work that has been done to rebuild effective international relations since the Lange Labour Government plunged the country into isolation from our traditional allies in the 1980s.

This Prime Minister has displayed arrogance and insensitivity towards leaders of nations that have defended New Zealand interests in the past, that are most inclined to advance our interests in the future, and that are sacrificing to secure international peace and security today.

Her Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff has added fuel to the fire. In a speech on the "United Nations - our hopes for the future", Goff offered this view:

"While the UN may have been sidelined by countries opting for unilateral action against Iraq, it is somewhat ironic that it may be called upon to pick up the pieces after the conflict."

Wrong again. The UN was not sidelined by countries opting for unilateral action.

The UN Security Council gave Iraq what it called a final opportunity to comply with resolutions designed to protect international peace and security.

The Security Council unanimously set the 30-day deadline and terms for compliance if serious consequences were to be avoided.

The Council established the framework for action, but when the deadline expired and its conditions had not been met in full, it could not provide the consensus for the united action that it had threatened.

If the coalition had not acted - Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to comply with the requirements placed on his State by the United Nations after his failed invasion of Kuwait. What difference would another 12 hours, 12 days, 12 years have made?

I am glad that when the UN deadline expired, there were still nations prepared to carry out its resolve.

The people of Iraq have been freed from his tyranny. Neighbour states and the broader international community no longer endure his threat. Saddam has vanished, but the battle for peace and security in Iraq is far from over.

The coalition is working to establish conditions where the people of Iraq can - for the first time in more than 20 years - determine their own destiny. They have undertaken an extremely difficult task.

They deserve something better than a resurrection of the anti-American paranoia that the current New Zealand Labour Party leaders developed in the 1960s, displayed in the 1980s, and are reverting to in the first decade of the new millennium.

The New Zealand National Party understands that there are times when a price must be paid to protect basic human values that we cherish. It has been a common bond between our nation, Australia, the United Kingdom and United States at critical times in the recent history of the world.

Our respect for the potential of the United Nations is not diminished by its failure to uphold its own resolutions in this instance.

The United Nations has not been sidelined by the unilateral actions of the Coalition. The Coalition respected the Security Council resolutions. It has ended Saddam's Hussein's defiance and delivered the objectives sought by the Council.

National's commitment to the interdependence of nations would not see us waiting for the resolution of an academic debate about who should oversee the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. We would not have insulted our old allies in the first place - and, by now, we would have been involved with them in the essential tasks of reconstruction.

My message to the Clark-Anderton coalition here is simple: you are in danger of sidelining New Zealand in international affairs once more. Face up to your responsibilities. Repair the damage you have caused. Account for what you've done to the people you claim to represent.

On this matter, let there be no mistake: we are determined that the Clark-Anderton coalition - the coalition of the careless - will be held to account for its actions and its arrogance.

New Zealand must move away from the impotent brand of multilateralism promoted by this clique.

National will promote a new approach - taking the more realistic and effective path of international interdependence.

It is a path that liberates us from the power of the veto, accommodates differences of view, and enables us make our own decisions to work with like-minded nations on matters that require cooperative international action.

It is a path that is consistent with the Anzac spirit we will honour this week.

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