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Cablegate: Opposition National Party Conference Rallies Troops, Offers

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RR RUEHNZ RUEHPT
DE RUEHWL #0604/01 2311955
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191955Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4590
INFO RUEHNZ/AMCONSUL AUCKLAND 1436
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 4921
RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 0563
RUEHBN/AMCONSUL MELBOURNE 0106
RUEHPT/AMCONSUL PERTH 0025
RUEHSV/AMEMBASSY SUVA 0615
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0351
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000604

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR STATE FOR EAP/FO, AND EAP/ANP, INR, STATE PASS TO USTR
PACOM FOR J01E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ETRD NZ
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION NATIONAL PARTY CONFERENCE RALLIES TROOPS, OFFERS
FOREIGN POLICY INSIGHTS

Ref: Wellington 538

1. Summary (SBU) The opposition National Party, riding high in the
polls, recently held its annual conference in Auckland from August 3
- 5. The party used the conference to portray itself as a
government-in-waiting and to make its case against Labour. National
spokesman made it clear National foreign policy would differ little
from Labour's current policy. Party leader John Key's conference
address, which focused on housing and welfare, sought to showcase
his prime ministerial credentials in spite of Labour accusations
that he is substance-free and a lightweight. End summary.
National Party bashes Labour, looks ahead to 2008
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) The opposition National Party held its annual conference in
Auckland from August 3-5, 2007. Buoyed by strong polling and a
popular and capable leader in John Key (ref: Wellington 538),
confident party faithful heard National MPs make their case for a
change of government, promise to solve many of ills that affect New
Zealand (without providing too much detail as to how) and criticize
the Labour Government's management of the country.
3. (SBU) The conference was light on specifics; National
strategists insisted it is still too early in the electoral cycle
for National to be releasing policy. (Note: The next election is not
scheduled until late 2008. End note.). Although National was not
prepared to unveil policies, the conference was scripted to
demonstrate that the party was rigorously developing new ideas. The
party prominently showcased its shadow cabinet (with a slick video
introduction reminiscent of the opening credits of "The West Wing"),
allowing each member time to explain their thinking in their
respective portfolio areas, all in the hope of portraying them as a
competent cabinet-in-waiting.

A National Government's Prospective Foreign Policy
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) Shadow foreign minister Murray McCully and shadow trade
minister Tim Groser held a closed-door session on foreign policy for
diplomatic attendees. They emphasized that foreign policymaking in
New Zealand is generally a bipartisan affair and diplomats should
not expect big changes under a National government. They declined
to discuss foreign policy in detail, asking instead that the
diplomatic corps wait for a National foreign policy paper currently
in draft.
5. (U) A National government would focus heavily on Asia, but not
at the expense of other regions. Groser summed it up by saying it
would be "Asia first, but not Asia first and last." Groser
applauded the management of the China-U.S. relationship, calling it
"the most important bilateral relationship in the world."
6. (U) Groser, a former New Zealand ambassador to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) and chairman of WTO agricultural negotiations,
labeled the WTO as "indispensable" for a small nation like New
Zealand. Although he hoped for success in the Doha Round, he
predicted its demise due to lack of political will. Like the Labour
government, a trade priority for a National government would be a
U.S. - New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Elsewhere, according
to Groser, NZ should "seize trade liberalization opportunities as
they appear in the region."
7. (U) Groser criticized APEC as a mechanism to promote trade
liberalization while admitting its worth in promoting political and
technical cooperation in the region. He believes that any thought
of achieving an APEC FTA by 2010 is unrealistic. A National
government would support an APEC FTA only as last resort and
provided there is explicit expression of interest by other APEC
nations to pursue such an agreement. Regarding regional trade
arrangements, Groser said a National government "will support what
is put on the table but won't be a driver of the process."
The Pacific Island: Development and Security
--------------------------------------------
8. (U) In the Pacific, McCully said that a National government
would better prioritize and rationalize New Zealand aid to the
region, emphasizing the need for increased cooperation with other
donor countries. National would focus on economic sustainability
rather that poverty alleviation. McCully believes that creating
conditions for economic development is the best way to help
struggling South Pacific nations.
9. (U) National supports Labour's Fiji policy and would look to
continue sanctions on the country similar to those imposed by the
Labour government. However, without providing specifics, Groser

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noted that the coup might have been avoided had Labour pursued a
"more judicious" Fiji policy.
Terrorism: NZ Out of Sync on Anti-Terror Measures
--------------------------------------------- -----
10. (U) Although differences in national security measures between
National and Labour are few, Groser said, National believes that New
Zealand is out of step with countries such as Australia and Canada
on anti-terror legislation and designation of entities. National
believes that the Labour government's anti-terror approach tilts too
far in favor of civil liberties at the expense of terrorist
suppression. Australia was touted as a yardstick in designating
terror groups in the region and National wants New Zealand to
designate any group or entity that Australia does. As a side
comment, Groser predicted that the Labour government could "fall" if
New Zealand was attacked by a terror group that was not on New
Zealand's watch list but was on Australia's.
Defense: Focus on Capacity and Inter-Operability
--------------------------------------------- ---
11. (U) A key defense focus for a National government would be to
identify New Zealand's niche military strengths and to maximize
inter-operability with Australia. Increased defense spending was
hinted at but not promised. McCully said that National would like
to add another frigate to the New Zealand Navy. A National
government would commit to a Defense White Paper, the first since
1997.
Climate change: Mixed Messages
------------------------------
12. (SBU) Some climate change rhetoric at the conference contrasted
with previous party statements on the issue. Since becoming party
leader, Key has attempted boost his party's environmental
credentials. In a May 14 speech, Key stated that National would
honor New Zealand's international obligations and would not pull out
of the Kyoto Protocol. At the conference, Groser noted that the
Protocol needs significant modification and talked of the need for a
"Kyoto II" that took into account U.S. and Chinese concerns.
John Key's speech
-----------------

13. (U) The conference was John Key's first as party leader since
taking the helm in November 2006. The purpose of his much
anticipated keynote speech was to present himself as prime
ministerial material and to offer a vision of how New Zealand would
perform better under a National government. While eschewing detail,
Key endeavored to provide enough of a policy prescription to counter
Labour's efforts to categorize him as a lightweight who does not
stand for anything.

Comment
-------
14. (SBU) National Party strategists know that any policy released
so far ahead of the next election would either be forgotten,
appropriated or attacked by Labour. Key himself told ConGen
Auckland PO that any detail laid out at the conference would be
forgotten "in a couple of weeks." It is likely that National will
hold off unveiling details of its key policies, in areas such as tax
and healthcare, until the official four-week election campaign.
15. (SBU) The absence of substance at the convention, while
understandable, left a vacuum that the New Zealand media gleefully
filled with the minor gaffes that such a big political show
inevitably produces. Key had to scold one of his shadow ministers
for an insensitive Holocaust reference while Key himself inaptly
referred to his plans to lead a "Labour" government. In the days
before the conference, Key got into a spat with New Zealand's
leading newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, over whether he had
endorsed the Australia-New Zealand drug oversight agency in an
on-the-record interview. Labour believes Key puts too much of a
premium on personal style ahead of policy substance and eagerly
jumped on these minor miscues. While National's "coming up party"
for Key was not a failure by any means, it would be fair to say that
Key and the conference seemed less than triumphal. largely succeeded
in upholding his PM credentials, we anticipate that Labour will
attack Key's 'lack of substance' throughout the campaign period.
With all of that, polls since the conference show National's edge
holding strong. End Comment.
McCormick

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