Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Wikileak: National (McCully) Contemplates End Of Nuke Ban

Wikileak: National (McCully) Contemplates End Of Nuke Ban In 2006


Date: 2/17/2006

53375,2/17/2006 5:15,06WELLINGTON128,Embassy Wellington,


E.O. 12958:
DECL: 02/17/2016


Classified By: Acting DCM Katherine B. Hadda, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: The opposition National Party is considering changing its policy regarding New Zealand's anti-nuclear ban, hoping to thereby remove one of Labour's strongest weapons against National. Senior Party officials have explained to us behind the scenes that the modification would only clarify existing policy by removing any reference to a possible referendum on whether to repeal the legislation. While at first glance the potential change seems significant, it reality it was always unlikely National could meet the current policy's pre-condition of public support for a vote. It was even less likely the result would be a majority vote in favor of removing what many see as an iconic piece of legislation. End Summary.

2. (SBU) At a recent National Party caucus retreat held prior to the start of the parliamentary year, two issues dominated the agenda: a possible challenge to the current leadership and a proposed change to the party's anti-nuclear policy. Although the eye of the media was fixed upon the leadership issue, a more critical issue largely flew beneath the radar: During the caucus retreat, National's Foreign Affairs spokesman Murray McCully moved that the party drop its current nuclear ban policy, which states that a National Government would only support a change to the anti-nuclear legislation if it had a clear public mandate by means of a referendum.

3. (C) McCully has, at this stage, only sought caucus approval for a discussion on the nuclear ban issue at a later date. However, he has told DCM and others that he wants National's policy to grant unconditional support to the status quo, i.e. to say the party supports maintaining the anti-nuclear legislation. Despite party leader Don Brash refusing to publicly state where he stands on the proposal, Post believes that he supports removing the possible referendum from the party's policy. Why the potential change?


4. (SBU) National rightly believes that the referendum provision has been deliberately misrepresented by Labour to create confusion and doubt in the public's mind. The strategy of constantly attacking National over the issue was largely successful for Labour during the last general election, as it repeatedly put Brash on the defensive when he tried to explain his party's policy. Although Brash insisted National had ""no intention of removing the ban,"" confusion remained as to why the party was mooting the possibility of a referendum if they did not intend to change the law. Brash's difficulty in mounting a convincing argument was also compounded by Labour's repeated (and deliberately misleading) claims that Brash told a visiting CODEL that the nuclear ban would be ""gone by lunchtime"" if National were returned to power under his premiership.

5. (C) The resulting confusion over the referendum pledge has led much of the public to forget that National's policy actually supports maintaining the existing nuclear legislation absent a referendum called as a result of public demands. Confusion mounted when National also said that it would consider it had a mandate to change the legislation if elected on a platform to do so. After Labour made hay from that policy as well, National hastily added it had no intention of including a proposed nuclear ban change in its platform any time soon. Pragmatic rationale


6. (C) The proposal to re-calibrate National's nuclear position is part of a broad review of the National's election campaign. McCully confided to visiting EAP/ANP Director Howard Krawitz that the party's polling shows the nuclear issue definitely cost it votes.

7. (C) McCully says the policy change is not a done deal, and apparently the party has not laid down a timetable for addressing the issue. But any change to National's nuclear policy would probably have to come sooner rather than later. Some senior National MPs fear that if this and other policies are changed closer to the election year (now scheduled for 2008) it will look like public pandering rather than strategic thinking. McCully has also conceded that a protracted delay could create further confusion in the public's mind. National committed to remain pro-US despite policy shift.

----------- -------------

8. (C) McCully has hastened to reassure us that change to National's nuclear policy will not dilute National's commitment towards improving the bilateral relationship. He has argued that despite the move to unreservedly uphold the nuclear legislation it is possible to ""still have a positive view about the United States."" McCully told EAP/ANP Director Krawitz that his party wants to focus attention on ways New Zealand can advance its relations with the United States in a nonpartisan way. He said if National and Labour both agree that the ban should remain in place, National can better focus attention on Labour's gratuitous anti-American statements and overall failure to improve relations with the United States. McCully claimed that former National PM Jim Bolger was encouraging the change in policy, apparently arguing that the New Zealand public will only support removal of the ban if compelled by a crisis. (Comment: McCully did not articulate what this would be, but presumably a natural disaster requiring an air carrier to enter New Zealand's waters or a terrorist attack. End Comment.) Until then, the party gains nothing by pushing for a change.

9. (C) McCully also says that in the short term, National will criticize Labour's failure to improve bilateral relations and will also seek ways to build on US-NZ cooperation in a variety of areas. In the medium-term, it will try to move public opinion to be more supportive of the United States. Although the policy has not yet changed, McCully tried out National's new strategy in a radio debate last week with Defense Minister Goff, who called National's shift a ""flip flop"" and said the party can't be trusted. McCully responded that Labour was unwilling to improve its relations with the U.S. because many in Government are anti-American. Labour's response to the proposed change.


10. (C) Predictably, Labour has tried to capitalize on National's plans. Before the National caucus had even discussed McCully's proposition, Defence Minister Phil Goff went to the media to turn the issue from being about whether National would keep New Zealand nuclear-free into the wider question of National's overall credibility. He asserted that given that National had made so many reversals on the issue of nuclear ship visits, the public would surely not believe the party had really changed its mind this time. Goff has since repeated this line of attack within the Parliamentary debating chamber. Comment:


11. (C) While on the surface National's possible change in policy seems significant, in reality there is less there than meets the eye. Although the party has previously commissioned studies questioning the logic of the anti-nuclear legislation, and many of its MPs have privately told us they support removal of the ban, National's official policy always was to retain the law absent a voter referendum to repeal it. Given the strong and widespread support for the anti-nuclear legislation, such a referendum would almost surely fail.

12. (C) We know only one National MP -- the newcomer Chris Finlayson -- who thought a National Government should change the legislation right after winning an election, without a referendum. But he also thought the Government should then shelve the issue by not encouraging or allowing any ship visits for a number of years. Significantly, following the recent caucus even Finlayson seems resigned to the impossibility of changing the legislation any time soon.

13. (C) As we reported during the election campaign (reftel), a National Government would be unable to change the nuclear legislation over the shorter term because of strong public opinion in favor of the ban and because of the party's own reduced credibility on the issue after repeated Labour attacks. But we also continue to believe a National Government would be better able to rebuild much of the trust that has eroded US-NZ relations over the past years. For our part, Post will continue to tell National and others that we welcome the chance to build stronger bilateral relations, even if the extent of the improvement will remain constrained by the significant ""unfinished business"" that still remains between us. End Comment. McCormick",17/02/2006


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Peter Dunne: What Has Happened To Tolerance?

An unpleasant aspect of our current national character has come to light in recent times. When it comes right down to it, no matter what our pretences to the contrary, tolerance for a different point of view, or approach to things, is not a commodity in great supply at present, right across the political spectrum... More>>

Keith Rankin: Inflation Fears, Bullshit Costs, And Inappropriate Policy

It is true that New Zealand – and the rest of the world – now faces substantial inflation pressure. As the 2020s unfold, the biggest macroeconomic story – as in the 1920s after World War 1 – is likely to be about how we address these pressures... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: When Football Did Not Come Home

They were in with a shot. The English team, deliriously floating on chants of Football’s Coming Home, had made it to their first major tournament final since 1966. The UEFA European Football Championship would be decided at Wembley against an Italian side unblemished by defeat since September 2018... More>>

Climate Explained: Is New Zealand Losing Or Gaining Native Forests?

Apart from wetlands, land above the treeline, coastal dunes and a few other exceptions, New Zealand was once covered in forests from Cape Reinga to Bluff. So was Europe, which basically consisted of a single forest from Sicily in southern Italy to the North Cape in Norway, before human intervention... More>>

Sydney Mockdown: The Delta Variant Strikes

It is proving to be an unfolding nightmare. For a government that had been beaming with pride at their COVID contract tracing for months, insisting that people could live, consume and move about with freedom as health professionals wrapped themselves round the virus, the tune has changed... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Why The J&J Vaccine Isn’t An Ideal Back-up Option, And Haiti

The news that Medsafe has given approval to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine means the government is finally putting a backup plan in place, after the series of close shaves it has been experiencing of late in getting its deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine... More>>