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Cablegate: New Zealand - Minister On Politics, Islam And

VZCZCXRO0198
PP RUEHCHI RUEHFK RUEHHM RUEHKSO RUEHPB
DE RUEHWL #0461/01 1710442
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 200442Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4389
INFO RUEHZU/ASIAN PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION
RHEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC 0147
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000461

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/20/2027
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECPS PINR KISL NZ AS
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND - MINISTER ON POLITICS, ISLAM AND
IMMIGRATION, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, TRANSTASMAN COOPERATION

REF: A. WELLINGTON 413

B. WELLINGTON 284

Classified by Consul General John Desrocher for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

(U) This message was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved
by Embassy Wellington.

1. (C) Summary. Up-and-coming Labour Party Minister David
Cunliffe is confident about his party's reelection chances
despite poor recent poll numbers. He is also confident about
successfully dismantling New Zealand's telecommunications
monopoly despite the challenges. Cunliffe is concerned about
anti-Muslim sentiment among Kiwis, as well as efforts by
radical imams to emigrate to New Zealand to preach. He
predicted efforts to salvage plans for a joint drugs
regulatory agency with Australia would fail. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
If a week is a long time in politics, 18 months is forever
--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. (C) Over lunch with ConGen Auckland PO on June 15, David
Cunliffe, New Zealand's minister for both immigration and
telecommunications, acknowledged the Labour Party's dismal
showing in recent polls (ref A) but expressed apparently
genuine optimism about Labour's prospects for returning to
power in next year's elections. Given that Labour has been
in power for eight years and that the opposition National
Party has a fresh new face at the top (John Key), Cunliffe
said, it is no surprise that National is polling so well.
Pointing out that elections are as far as 18 months away,
Cunliffe said Labour had plenty of time to make up the lost
ground and would do so.

3. (C) Cunliffe said there was last year debate within
Labour regarding how to respond to the then-National Party
leader, the intellectually respected but politically awkward
Don Brash. Many in the Labour caucus, Cunliffe said,
believed that Brash's clumsiness was a gift to Labour, and
that Labour should do all it could to ensure Brash remained
leader of the opposition. Most Labour MPs, however, argued
that Key would certainly unseat Brash before the next
election. If it was inevitable that Key rather than Brash
would lead National into the next election, the argument
went, it was in Labour's interest to have Key in the
opposition leader's seat as soon as possible so that the
friction of politics could rub away some of his glow. Better
to run against Key when he's been opposition leader for 18
months rather than only 4-6 months. Therefore Labour kept
the heat on Brash, doing whatever they could to speed his
downfall.

---------------------
Battling the Monopoly
---------------------

4. (C) Cunliffe was also upbeat about his telecommunications
portfolio, despite the challenges. He is currently trying to
break up Telecom, which enjoys a monopoly in most New Zealand
telecommunications sectors and what Cunliffe called a "cozy
duopoly" with Vodafone in mobile telephony. New Zealand's
overpriced cellular services, Cunliffe said, made clear there
was room for a third provider. He expected the entry of a
third player in the market to be announced reasonably soon.
He said that, in slowing investment and throwing up
roadblocks to reform, Telecom was behaving exactly as any
monopoly would when faced with being dismantled. He
acknowledged that significant government investment in the
sector might be required, particulary in broadband, where
NZ's performance against other OECD members has lagged and
where the country's vast and nearly empty rural areas make
providing universal coverage a challenge. He noted that
people have become very dependent on broadband access in just
a few years and reported that his constituent office received
far more complaints about broadband access than about any
other issue, including the recent, highly-unpopular
anti-spanking legislation (ref B).

-----------
Immigration
-----------

WELLINGTON 00000461 002 OF 003

5. (C) Cunliffe's constituency is one-third foreign born,
the largest percentage of any electorate. He said that,
while New Zealanders are generally very tolerant of different
cultures, the country did suffer from cyclical waves of
anti-immigration sentiment - anti-Pacific in the eighties,
anti-Asian in the nineties, and anti-Muslim today. When the
PO expressed surprise at the latter, given that Muslims,
particularly Arab Muslims, are nearly invisible even in
multicultural Auckland, Cunliffe acknowledged that the
population was small, but concentrated. He said that Muslims
drew suspicion and hostility from other Kiwis who view them,
for no good reason, as a security threat. While emphasizing
that New Zealand Muslims are loyal to their adopted country
and inclined to leave the conflicts of their homelands behind
them, Cunliffe expressed some concern that more radical imams
are trying to enter the country and stir up trouble. Asked
what tools he had to exclude those who have committed no
crimes but still might be considered a threat, Cunliffe
turned coy. "Some people simply find their visas don't get
renewed," he said. Cunliffe was confident that such imams
are being pushed to New Zealand by radical elements outside
the country, rather than pulled into New Zealand by
congregations seeking more extreme preachers.

6. (C) Cunliffe reported that Asian immigrants' approach to
politics was evolving. The first generation from China,
Taiwan, and Korea eschewed politics, focussing instead on
growing their businesses and educating their children. The
next generation, however, is more active in politics.
Cunliffe, whose electorate office issues some documents in
Korean, has a number of young Asian staff members. According
to Cunliffe, both major parties are trying to reach out to
this generation. They are not perceived as having a natural
political home. He described them as largely nonideological,
choosing party allegiance based on their judgement of how
best to fulfill their ambitions rather than out of loyalty to
a certain political point of view. Asian voting patterns
tend to reflect the neighborhood, Cunliffe said, they vote
National in National areas and Labour in traditionally Labour
communities.

-------------------------------
God and Politics in New Zealand
-------------------------------

7. (C) Cunliffe also discussed the intersection of religion
and politics in New Zealand, in the context of disgraced
Labour MP Taito Philip Field's maneuvers to set up a
Christian political party. Cunliffe said that New Zealanders
are not as secular as generally thought. Their Christianity,
however, tends to be overlooked in politics because it is not
focussed in a particular part of the spectrum. Christianity
in New Zealand, Cunliffe explained, runs the gamut from
liberation theology on the left, to more traditional European
Christian democracy in the center to evangelical
fundamentalism on the right. Cunliffe argued that no
religious party would be able to cross the 5% threshhold for
entry into parliament as the potentially most potent
religious force, the evangelicals, were too divided, but he
allowed that a particularly charismatic religious politician
might be able to win a constituency seat and pull a few
colleagues into Parliament on his/her coattails. Cunliffe
thought the odds of this were long and that neither Field nor
Brian Tamaki, the head of the high profile evangelical
Destiny Church, could be that politician. Nonetheless,
Cunliffe added, Labour recognized that it had neglected those
New Zealanders to whom faith is important, a failing the
party would attempt to rectify between now and the election.

8. (C) If so, apparently not everyone in the Labour caucus
got the memo. In a separate conversation, Labour backbencher
Ross Robertson lambasted fellow Labour MP Winnie Laban's
recent proposal to abolish Parliament's opening prayer.
Robertson had spent a subsequent constituency meeting dealing
exclusively with angry questions about the proposal. Asked
why Laban would propose something sure to alienate many while
inspiring few, Robertson shrugged and suggested that Laban
was trying to make friends with Labour's very secular far
left. (Comment: Laban is well known to Mission New Zealand,
and we would guess her proposal is more likely linked to her
role in New Zealand's inter-faith dialogue, a forum she
strongly supports. End comment.)

WELLINGTON 00000461 003 OF 003

--------------------------------------------- -------
Transtasman Drugs Agency - Good Policy, Bad Politics
--------------------------------------------- -------

9. (C) The upbeat Cunliffe turned negative when asked about
Foreign Minister and New Zealand First party leader Winston
Peters' efforts to salvage the government's attempt to set up
with Australia a joint drug regulatory agency. Cunliffe
suggested the proposal was dead and was disappointed that the
government had ever pursued it. From a management and
efficiency perspective, Cunliffe said, such an agency made
perfect sense, "a no-brainer." But it was a political
mistake. Cunliffe explained that there were far more votes
to lose than to gain. An arcane exercise in setting up a
regulatory agency would not exactly energize Labour's base,
but it would offend a significant number of people. Holistic
treatment adherents (many of whom are Cunliffe constituents)
fear the agency will outlaw alternative medicines while
ultranationalists see any cooperation with Australia as a
step down New Zealand's path towards becoming just another
Australian territory. Cunliffe predicted Peters' efforts to
save the proposal would fail.

---------
Bio Notes
---------

10. (C) Cunliffe is a former diplomat and is widely touted
as one of Labour's future leaders. Asked why he left the
diplomatic service, he said he was more tempermentally suited
to politics than to diplomacy. Another reason he cited for
leaving was so that his spouse, whom he described as the
family's breadwinner, could return to her law practice.
Cunliffe, who spent six years studying and working in the
U.S., comes across as genuinely pro-American. While a
student, he worked on Senator Kennedy's re-election campaign
against Governor Romney. Cunliffe has a mixed reputation
among his colleagues, some of whom have complained to Emboffs
that he is arrogant and (ironically) undiplomatic.
MCCORMICK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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