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Upton-on-line: The military, whales and roads

Upton-on-line August 25th

After several marathon editions, upton-on-line dabbles in a few odds and ends: military hardware, whales and roads to nowhere.

Pulling Down the Blinds

Defence Minister Mark Burton has laid out the latest elements of the Government's defence strategy. At its heart, the strategy is all about not disclosing a strategy - just implementing one. The tactic is a familiar one that the Government has been perfecting since its election. Doubt is cast on a major capability, its discontinuance is leaked and then confirmed formally in the House by the minister. At the same time, doubt is cast over the next capability.

Earlier this year the Government announced that it would be completely reviewing our defence requirements. But the Prime Minister knew enough to write off the F-16s before Derek Quigley had even reported. When the final decision was reported to the House (following the appropriate leak in advance) a permanent shadow was cast over the future of any air strike capability.
Now the same formula has been applied to Project Sirius - the upgrade of the airborne maritime surveillance capability on board the Orions. First the project was doubted publicly, then its axing leaked and finally confirmed by the minister in five brief sentences to the House.

They were breathtakingly disingenuous sentences for all that. The minister told the House that Sirius would have locked us into a particular capability "before a clear assessment of how to best meet New Zealand's needs was available".

You might think that was sensible except that there's no intention of doing any such assessment. The next sentence gave the game away. We quote it in full:
"A group of senior cabinet ministers will examine how the wide range of non-military requirements for maritime patrol surveillance can most appropriately be met, and whether a military maritime patrol capability should be maintained." [our italics]

Here we go again. Doubts are cast on the capability (just like the F-16s). In due course (give it six to 12 months) the demise of military maritime surveillance will leaked followed by a formal announcement.

So What is the Strategy?

Given that the strategy is not to announce one, what is it? In a nutshell, it's all about steadily dropping any military capability that could at any future point be of use to the western alliance countries (broadly defined) in any confrontation. It's a logical progression from the termination of ANZUS. Then, the aim was to remove any alliance obligations. Now the aim is to remove the possibility of co-operation - and to make sure any future government is deprived of any physical capability that would enable it to contribute to a closer relationship.

Military hardware takes time to acquire. Governments traditionally have to live with the hardware they've got and the inter-operability that goes with it. The new government has (from its point of view) a golden opportunity to eliminate large areas of inter-operability owing to the widespread obsolescence of much current hardware.

It is a foregone conclusion that the left/anti-military sentiment widespread in the Labour and Alliance ranks means an end to any military surveillance of our maritime environment. Only the Greens (in the form of Keith Locke) hailed the move ("This is one of the happiest days of my life") but the move enjoys wide support in government ranks. The Government will probably blame the Greens in its private conversations with overseas countries but this is likely to be seen as fairly transparent cover for the 'unannounced' strategy.

Why New Zealanders should be Outraged

There will be a range of views in the community about the extent to which we should become entangled with the defence and intelligence requirements of other countries. But surely there is no debate about our purely sovereign interest in knowing what is happening in our (rather large) corner of the world?
Upton-on-line never thought he would see the day when the Government of New Zealand would conduct an assessment of whether or not we should possess the capability to know who is in our region. To his knowledge there is no other developed nation in a maritime setting that does not regard the possession of this capability as a bedrock sovereign responsibility.

Why Others Will Be Outraged

The present government may take the view that New Zealand's neighbourhood is empty and of no interest to anyone else. But the Australian government doesn't. New Zealand is, by definition, the principal occupant of the vast neighbourhood to the east of the Australian continent.
They assume - not unreasonably - that we rely on them knowing what's happening to the north and east of the Australian continent and that, in return, we might care to take responsibility for knowing about the western margins of our joint planetary space. To opt out leaves Australia having to fill the gap and - presumably - continue to share information about what is happening north east of us. They see it as free-loading. Can we blame them?

But the Australian Government is Happy

Minister Burton keeps intoning that Australians aren't worried by our new strategy of informal retreat. He went as far as to claim that the relationship was in better heart than it had been for a decade - notwithstanding Defence Minister Moore breaking a decade-long policy of not commenting on New Zealand priorities and expressing polite disappointment about Project Sirius biting the dust.
The truth is that the Australians are appalled (to the extent that they can summon the energy to feel anything much about New Zealand). Minister Burton wilfully refuses to decipher tact and restraint for what it is. Minister Moore's "disappointment" was bad enough. But his attempt at irony was an even more devastating communications failure.

Asked, during his visit to New Zealand earlier this year, what he thought about Mr Burton's 'Defence Assessment' he searched around for something positive to say and then came up with the ineffable observation that it was good to see that New Zealand had decided to maintain the army as a combat force! [Read the last sentence again if you’re still standing]

That comment had the yield of a 10 megaton irony bomb. What else is the army for if not for combat? The New Zealand media all reported it straight and somehow Mr Moore kept a straight face in front of the cameras.
The reality is that we are seen as a country that has slipped out of the orbit of being either an ANZAC partner of any worth or a member of the western world in security terms. As we pull the blinds down, the big question is whether we are slipping out of that orbit on other fronts too.

The Long Trek Out of the Developed World

Upton-on-line believes the current government’s approach to security issues has placed New Zealand on a path to security relevance that is probably irreversible. (It certainly hopes it will be irreversible).

The interesting question is whether that is solely the result of government design or, in addition, the symptom of an inexorable slide from First World status. It has for some time been clear that New Zealanders were going to have to struggle to stay in the club. The recent currency slide – and complete lack of interest by investors – suggests we have slipped off economic radar screens too.

No-one knows what happens when a country like New Zealand slowly implodes. There aren’t too many models around. What group will we belong to? There’s a group called the Economies in Transition – the euphemism used to describe the former Soviet-bloc economies that are learning the ways of the market. But we don’t fit there – our transition is going downwards, not upwards.

Does the Government have a model in mind for us? There are aspects of South Africa and Chile that come to mind, but they’re not all positive…

The Government has to front up to the fact that it has collapsed international confidence in us: the world no longer believes that we know where we’re going. Investors certainly don’t. And on some of the domestic treaty-related issues it’s clear that the Government doesn’t. This is a very serious time for New Zealand. No society is more vulnerable than when expectations are raised then dashed. There may be worse to come.

Readers interested in pursuing the consequences for our bi-lateral relations with Australia might like to read Simon Upton’s column in today’s National Business Review. The argument is advanced there that Australia’s reluctance on the issue of common citizenship may well be related to a perception that New Zealand increasingly represents a liability – with serious consequences for the free movement of New Zealanders across the Tasman. To see today’s NBR article, click here .

The Road to Nowhere

Upton-on-line was a little surprised to hear his colleague Nick Smith slagging Conservation Minister Sandra Lee’s decision to establish nohoanga (camping sites) for the exclusive use of Tuhoe in the wildernesses of the Ureweras.
After all, he and Sir Douglas Graham had worked to establish just such reserves as part of the Ngai Tahu settlement.

Enquiries reveal, however, a very different kete of worms. Nick showed upton-on-line a fascinating letter sent to him after his Holmes Show appearance with Sandra Lee and Tame Iti. It was from Tama Nikora of the Tuhoe Trust Board who stated: “We already have enough maraes of our own, and our own lands to camp on, without entertaining any further liabilities.”

Tame Iti has ruffled quite a few feathers which go right back to the Waikaremoana occupation and before. Nikora says:

“Tame Iti is not an owner of land at Maungapohatu, and has no authority of those owners to represent them. I really do take exception to a continuing circumstances of Government dealing with any person (i.e. Tame Iti) who does not have any power to express any view or enter into any agreement on matters under discussion.”

Contrary to Sandra Lee’s claim that Nick had opportunistically exploited the issue and thereby forced her to back off, Nick drew attention to a number of very serious shortcomings in the Minister’s performance:

 She had failed to talk to Maori (such as Mr Nikora) about the wisdom of what she was doing

 She was cutting across a formal grievance process that will be heard before the Waitangi Tribunal

 She had done a deal with Tame Iti without regard for his lack of standing or the precedent she was creating.

The road to Maungapohatu is not a road to nowhere. It is a very important Tuhoe site. It is closely associated with the prophet Rua Kenana, a charismatic Tuhoe leader whose treatment at the hands of the police in the early years of this century was, by itself, enough to fuel bitterness down to this day. As the dealings in this most remote of North Island fastnesses are described before the Waitangi tribunal, New Zealanders are going to learn much more about yet another none-too-celebrated chapter in dealings between Government and Maori over lands.

Upton-on-line has been doing some preliminary digging and came across a 1986 publication by Evelyn Stokes, Wharehuia Milroy and Hirini Melbourne on the dealings that stretch right up into the 1960s concerning the area now covered by the Urewera National Park. It is the SILNA forests all over again – government agents wanting to preserve the scenic aspects of the bush along the road margins, stopping Maori selling to anyone other than the government and then not being prepared to put a fair value on the lost economic value of the timber.

An indication of what some Tuhoe were up against is apparent from this report from the NZ Herald of 14 September 1963:

The Urewera National Park Board expects to be able to buy large areas of Maori land within the park when the payment of rates on the land is enforced. Mr B.H.N. Teague said the Minister of Internal Affairs, Sir Leon Gotz, had made it very clear that Maoris would have to pay rates on land inside the park. “If they are going to be asked to pay rates they are going to sell their land to avoid paying” he said.

Really subtle stuff that! About as subtle as Tame Iti. That’s why doing deals with Tame Iti has been a road to nowhere for the Minister who has seriously damaged the nohoanga concept. Helen Clark was forced to stomp on it.
But for the record, upton-on-line supports nohoanga. Vast areas of New Zealand lie controlled by DOC regardless of the ancient connections of Maori people. And the basis on which the Crown came to control these lands isn’t always a happy story (as the Tuhoe case will no doubt reveal). Nohoanga are a practical, and sensitive way of acknowledging those connections. But they should proceed from a sober engagement by the Crown and Maori as part of settling historic grievances. That is what should happen in the case of the Urewera country over the next year or so.


Two days before New Zealand’s Whaling Commissioner Jim McLay came to brief the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the background to a petition calling for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, upton-on-line received a letter from Te Ohu Kai Moana (the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission).

Attached to the letter was a cheery little newsletter called Tohora which has been launched to assist with an informed debate on “aboriginal rights, health and nutrition through traditional foods, and the sustainable use of whales.” It is published by the Commission in conjunction with Ngati Kuia, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Ngati Apa, Te Atiawa, Ngati Toa Rangatira and the World Council of Whalers.

New Zealand has always supported the right of indigenous peoples to conduct whaling under the appropriate controls permitted by the International Whaling Commission. So it was surprising to see Te Ohu Kai Moana Commissioner, Archie Taiaroa, stating that many indigenous people who had attended IWC meetings over the years had never heard a word uttered about Maori use of whale products. Jim McLay assured the Select Committee that this could not be so - he had personally registered and described that interest on many occasions.
Maori were never whale hunters (one assumes for technological reasons). But they did harvest a wide variety of products from stranded whales. And who could object to that?

What slightly unsettles upton-on-line is the fact that in offering to co-host the 3rd general assembly of the World Council of Whalers, Te Ohu Kai Moana is collaborating in an event funded in part by Japanese interests.

Some readers will doubtless consider that saving whales is a load of sentimental nonsense. Upton-on-line is an old greenie from way back on this one and is inherently suspicious of the sort of commercial interests that like to cosy-up to those seeking to continue their traditional practices.

Let’s hope Te Ohu Kai Moana retains a healthy scepticism and stands behind its declared position of not advocating the resumption of whaling in New Zealand’s waters.

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