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Who passed the test at APEC? - Prebble

Extract from speech to public meeting Mangaweka 1.45 pm Tues 14 September 1999 Hon Richard Prebble CBE, Leader ACT New Zealand

Who passed the test at APEC?

Now that APEC is behind us, it's time to look back and see how well it's gone. Who did well and who did not so well.

I have to say that New Zealand was the winner. The leaders who came, and the international TV networks that carried the footage saw the kind of people we New Zealanders are - friendly, open, welcoming, fair-minded and concerned for our fellow human beings. It was a great success.

No small amount of that success was due to Jenny Shipley. In an international arena full of pitfalls and with the added uncertainty and danger of escalating violence in East Timor, our Prime Minister conducted our affairs as a true, stable, international leader.

It probably helps to have a spouse who can shear a sheep at the drop of a hat, too. Who did not do so well?

I'm afraid that the leaders of Labour and the Alliance did not represent our best interests over the last week.

I would take you back to the debate in Parliament exactly a week ago, when Parliamentarians were discussing what to do in the face of the worsening crisis in East Timor. Jim Anderton, bless his soul, wanted an immediate invasion by NZ troops. No waiting round for any diplomacy, or even any support forces from other countries. "Send the forces now!" he barked. And if it couldn't be done immediately, well it was all Max Bradford's fault for not having our forces in a state of readiness.

Then, despite the fact that APEC was a wicked, global capitalist plot and he didn't even want it here in NZ at all, he wanted the East Timor issue put on the APEC agenda "immediately!".

Calling for two conflicting things at the same time has never been a problem for Mr Anderton.

It wasn't much of a problem for Helen Clark either. One minute she was calling APEC an "effete diplomatic meeting", and the next she was trying to bully the Prime Minister into putting East Timor on the formal agenda.

The Prime Minister stood firm against the hectoring and was absolutely firm in her view that putting East Timor on the agenda was not the way to assist the East Timorese. In her view, it was far better to allow the world's leaders to work through quiet diplomacy.

Well who was right?

The first challenge of APEC was to get the leaders to come.

Bill Clinton failed to show at both Malaysia and Japan. But he came to New Zealand. That simple fact alone made APEC successful.

National wanted to hear President Clinton say that agriculture should be included in the next trade round.

Clinton said more. He said agriculture must form the centre of the next round of the WTO negotiations. Those words alone are worth $45 million.

Early this year there was doubt that there would even be a new trade round this year. Agriculture has only been included once - the Uruguay round.

But the APEC Conference went further - with a commitment to end export-subsidised agriculture. The USA is a major subsidiser of agricultural products. It costs New Zealand more than $45 million a year - just from American subsidised exports. Another significant advance.

The withdrawal of the Malaysian Prime Minister is more to do with an October election. The withdrawal of the Indonesian President means a bigger challenge. He may have concluded that if he left home he might not be President. But the trade minister of Indonesia came. And the other 20 odd leaders came - by itself a major diplomatic achievement.

But was Jenny Shipley right about quiet diplomacy?

I am an eye witness. I was at the APEC leaders dinner on Sunday night. I sat at dinner with foreign ministers from Asian countries. I witnessed at my table, diplomacy being carried out.

The ministers talked and agreed, in front of me, on the need for a peacekeeping force and that they, the countries of Asia, should participate. They agreed that they would tell Indonesia to accept the peacekeepers.

It's very significant, because ASEAN nations as a rule do not easily interfere in each others' affairs. The quiet diplomacy worked.

The ministers told me that the Auckland APEC Conference was, in their view, well organised. I said. - "You are foreign ministers so of course you are diplomatic."

"Not so," they replied. "At other APEC dinners, everyone has been very formal. Here, it's informal. We feel free to get up and visit other tables and to talk" - what they and I did. "This is," they said, "a very good APEC Conference."

I asked, "Some people say that Mrs Shipley should have put East Timor on the agenda."

"If she had, we would not have come," was the answer.

The media now say that 'Miss Clark is an astute enough observer of international affairs to understand that such a move would have resulted in the summit evaporating altogether as China and other Asian countries high-tailed it home'.

The media is in effect saying that Helen Clark last week played party politics with the lives of thousands of East Timorese. That the leader of the Opposition put party political advantage ahead of the nation.

There is a saying that I first heard from a great Labour leader, Norman Kirk: "We have many political parties in New Zealand but only one flag."

He was referring to a fine tradition in New Zealand Parliament to put the country's interests first when leading with international issues. To have a bi partisan foreign policy whenever possible.

The full title of the Leader of the Opposition is: "The leader of her Majesty's loyal Opposition."

Helen Clark was not loyal to New Zealand. Helen Clark was not thinking of the East Timorese. Helen Clark was thinking of the next election. Helen Clark and Jim Anderton have proved that they are not qualified to lead our nation.

But New Zealand and our leader Jenny Shipley both passed the test.


ENDS

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