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The Right Talk, The Leader's View - 16 June 2003

The Right Talk, The Leader's view
16 June 2003

Focus on Washington

Tonight I'm heading off to Washington with a National Party team which will have foreign affairs, trade and defence talks with American officials and politicians.

With me will be our Foreign Affairs spokesman, Wayne Mapp, our Trade spokesman, Lockwood Smith, and our Defence spokesman, Simon Power. This will be my first visit to Washington as Opposition Leader and it's part of my plan to establish relationships in Australia and the US for the future.

While Wayne, Lockwood and Simon have planned their visit for some months, as part of our policy review process, my decision to join them came as a result of my recent talks in Canberra with Prime Minister John Howard and other Australian Ministers.

New Zealand is obviously close to Australia in foreign affairs and defence matters, Australia's policy dovetails with the US, and we need to have this aspect squared off, too. We need to have a good feel for where the US is going with the rest of the world and where their interests overlap with our national interests.

Credible, sustainable foreign policy

There will be no on-the-hoof policy announcements from this visit. New Zealand foreign affairs and defence policies need to be reliable, credible, long-term and enjoy public support. The messages we receive in Washington will contribute to our policy process.

There has been enough zigzag megaphone diplomacy from Wellington recently with Helen Clark attempting to curry favour in Washington by committing New Zealand to the Bush foreign policy. The Labour Left probably do not realise she has tagged New Zealand to the US and Britain as the only other country to have pledged substantial commitment currently to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

She had to make this leap after she managed to insult both Washington and Canberra with her foreign affairs commentaries on the Iraq War. When she was obliged to apologise to Washington she managed to sell this to the electorate as "bullying" by America.

This might have had the intended result of driving up her poll ratings, but that is unconscionable, in our view. This cynical little exercise in building domestic support for Labour has a massive cost - the contributions are likely to cost New Zealand taxpayers more than $40 million a year!

Labour in nationalising mode

Labour are now deeply embarrassed about their interference in the market process over Tranz Rail. Toll Holdings, the Australian transport company, has called the Government's bluff by increasing their offer, but Transport Minister Paul Swain and Finance Minister Michael Cullen have stressed that they will not get involved in a bidding war.

That leaves open the question of what they are doing in the process in the first place, when it should be for the market to sort out. Labour academics love to meddle and to pretend that they know how to do business, but what they will end up doing in this process is subsidising big business rail users - an unlikely task for a Labour Government.

To some extent Labour are trapped in this by the Greens, who don't particularly like roads and would love to move everyone and everything by rail. This close embrace from the Greens is going to be a continuing problem for Labour. They need the support, but it will come at a cost.


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