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WikiLeaks: Labour cautiously confident on 2005 election

WikiLeaks cable: Labour cautiously confident on 2005 election chances

15 November, 2004 NZ Labour Party cautiously confident on 2005 election chances

SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND LABOUR PARTY CAUTIOUSLY CONFIDENT ON 2005 ELECTION CHANCES

REF: WELLINGTON 889

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR KATHERINE B. HADDA, FOR REASONS 1.4(B,D)

Summary -------

1. (C) Summary: New Zealand's governing Labour Party held its annual conference, November 12 ) 14 in Auckland. Foreign affairs and trade featured prominently, and Clark noted that priorities over a Third term would include the following: new trade and economic links, especially FTAs or arrangements with ASEAN and India; a focus on sustainable development, within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol; and continued "peace and security work," with an emphasis on the Pacific. Labour left no doubts on its commitment to NZ's anti-nuclear legislation, while Senior Labour leaders reconfirmed the party's multi-lateralist and consensus-based foreign policy approach. The conference's headline initiative, which was leaked to the press a week earlier, was the creation of an all-party select committee to do a stocktake of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements. Overall, Helen Clark's Labour Party believes it is firmly in control of New Zealand and, barring economic downturn or scandal, is well-positioned for the 2005 election. End summary.

2. (U) New Zealand's governing Labour Party held its annual conference, November 12 ) 14 in Auckland. Clark's keynote address encouraged an air of celebration, claiming credit for New Zealand's economic growth, lower unemployment, rising education standards, better access to health care, and falling crime rates. Not surprisingly, these mirror exactly the five issue areas the Opposition National Party has chosen to attack. But in comparison with an overwhelmingly confident 2003 Conference, Labour tempered its highlight of achievements over the past year and increasingly positive poll ratings with a warning by Prime Minister Helen Clark that there is "no room for complacency." Clark pointedly referenced the disarray in the Labour Party Caucus of the 1980s, noting that New Zealanders are "looking for stability, predictability, and a commitment to the basics."

Labour Strongly Reaffirms Anti-Nuclear Stance ---------------------------------------------

3. (C) In contrast to the Conference of 2003, which focused primarily on domestic governance issues, foreign affairs and trade were central issues at this year's gathering. Clark noted that priorities over a Third term would include the following: new trade and economic links, especially FTAs or arrangements with ASEAN and India; a focus on sustainable development, within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol; and continued "peace and security work," with an emphasis on the Pacific. Clark also left no room for doubt of her anti-nuclear credentials, stating "let's be clear; under a Labour-led government, there will be no revisiting of our nuclear free status. It won't be gone by lunchtime or any other time." All Conference attendees received anti-nuclear bumper stickers in their packs, and in discussions with delegates, Poloff was repeatedly told that the issue was closely related to Kiwi national identity and the U.S. should cease pressure on NZ to affect a change.

4. (C) Senior Labour leaders including Foreign Minister Phil Goff and Trade Minister Jim Sutton reconfirmed the party's multi-lateralist and consensus-based foreign policy. An experimental session that featured a policy paper on New Zealand's foreign policy direction included a mention of the importance NZ's anti-nuclear policies have played in the past. (Note: A copy of the policy paper has been faxed to EAP/ANP.)

1 New Initiative ) Lots of Hints For 3rd Term --------------------------------------------

5. (U) The conference's headline initiative, which was leaked to the press a week earlier, was the creation of an all-party select committee, chaired by United Future leader Peter Dunne, to do a stocktake of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements. (NB: NZ's constitution is currently comprised of certain key pieces of legislation, and some include the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, under which Maori agreed to British rule in exchange for British citizenship and other rights.) Opposition parties decried the proposal. The National Party called it a pre-election distraction from the issues of race relations, raised by National's leader Don Brash in January, to great public support. NZ First called the idea a "road to nowhere." 6. (U) In keeping with its mantra of stability and caution, no other new initiatives were advanced by Labour over the weekend, and Clark's speech focused on multi-year programs announced over the past 12 months. These include increasing levels of government support for working families (fully funded by 2007), an additional week of paid leave for workers (by 2007), and a broadening of the superannuation program for government employees.

7. (U) Hints for future programs reflected Labour's pre-election push to broaden their appeal to average, working-class voters. They hinted at policies such as building the asset base and savings capacity of average Kiwis, providing support for families with children in tertiary education, and crafting a non-compulsory superannuation program for private sector workers.

"Many A Slip Twixt the Cup And The Lip" ---------------------------------------

8. (C) Reinforcing Clark's cautions on complacency, her keynote suffered an unscripted intervention by protesters calling for the release of imprisoned asylum-seeker Ahmed Zaoui. The protest highlights Labour's vulnerability on certain key issues, including human rights and Maori affairs. With a vote coming up this week on controversial legislation, which would vest ownership of the foreshore and seabed with the GoNZ, Party members repeated thanks to the Maori Caucus for its support was duly noted by Maori delegates and MPs alike.

Comment -------

9. (C) Comment: Helen Clark's Labour Party believes it is firmly in control of New Zealand. Barring economic downturn or scandal, the Party is well-positioned for the 2005 election. But Labour knows it must remain squarely positioned over NZ's political center, or risk a more significant challenge from National. Clark's keynote speech therefore emphasized Labour's delivery of stability and economic prosperity, as well as directly addressing issues the Opposition had staked out as areas of weakness. With the opposition unable to gain traction from Labour's blunders, Labour has again proved its strength as a strongly unified party, a credit to Clark's leadership, especially as recent allegations surrounding Maori MP John Tamihere (Reftel) threatened to derail Labour's Conference. NZ's anti-nuclear legislation featured more prominently than in previous years, largely a reflection of National's release of a discussion paper on the issue. While the message from Labour was clear ) we will not change- the Party's need to mention this may indicated that discussion of the issue is gaining traction. End comment.

7. (U) The text of Helen Clark's speech and the Labour Party Draft Working Paper on Foreign Policy can be found at Embassy Wellington's Classified Website. Swindells

ENDS


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