Go to:

Phil Goff

10 January, 2003

Brownlee u-turn on nukes motivated by ambition

Gerry Brownlee’s call for ending New Zealand’s ban on nuclear-powered ships is a complete ‘u’ turn from his statement on the issue last September, says Foreign Minister Phil Goff. And the about-face is more to do with the National MP’s leadership ambitions than the issue itself, he says.

“Last September, Gerry Brownlee was quoted in the Dominion Post as saying New Zealanders were proud of their anti-nuclear legislation. He said ‘I can’t see in the foreseeable future that changing.’

“What has changed in the last three months is Mr Brownlee’s ambitions, as he has watched his leader, Bill English, fall steadily in the polls.

“Mr Brownlee’s statement is in direct contradiction to Bill English’s position on this issue, and Mr Brownlee knows it.

”This is a time-honoured tactic over summer for a politically ambitions MP to lay the groundwork for a challenge to his leader. It gives him profile and attention and supports rumours of a March challenge to Bill English for the leadership.

“But Gerry Brownlee’s position puts him at odds with 65 percent of the electorate who in a recent poll preferred New Zealand to stay nuclear-free. It also puts him at odds with his own party’s policy position over the last decade.

“It is also potentially damaging for New Zealand. Last time the National party questioned its adherence to the nuclear-free policy in 1991, it set up a formal review of the policy and raised US expectations that it would be changed.

“The review team recommended change but the then Bolger Government reneged on altering the ban. That was consistent with the New Zealand public’s view but it increased cynicism towards New Zealand from the United States which had been led to believe that change was likely.

“It is better to be up-front and accept that New Zealand and the United States have different views on the issue, as sovereign countries who are close friends do from time to time.

“Gerry Brownlee and some of his colleagues want to trade off a stand New Zealand has long taken as a matter of principle for hoped-for trade benefits. That would be perceived by the rest of the world for what it was, and leave New Zealand’s reputation for integrity and independence in foreign policy in tatters. Such is the price of Mr Brownlee’s ambitions.

“New Zealand is seeking a free trade agreement on its merits, in line with the principles of removing obstacles to trade which it shares with and has long promoted alongside the US in fora such as APEC and the WTO.

“The US is entering into free trade agreements with countries such as Morocco, Singapore, Chile and the countries of Central America which are not allies and have not contributed to international peace keeping and security in areas like Afghanistan as New Zealand has.

“While the US may raise the nuclear issue and many other issues it would ideally like movement on from New Zealand in any trade negotiations, differences in views in this area are not key or insuperable obstacles to progress being made towards negotiating a free trade agreement,” Mr Goff said.

  • Phil Goff
  • Foreign Affairs and Trade