Otago Foreign Policy School, opening address

Foreign Affairs

Manawa maiea te pūtanga o Matariki

Manawa maiea te ariki o te rangi

Manawa maiea te mātahi o te tau!


I’m pleased to join you for my second address at the 56th Annual Otago Foreign Policy School.

The topic for this year is Space.

Given that we are in the phase of Matariki it’s only fitting that we call on ngā tātai arorangi – the wisdom of the universe and space - to discuss how Aotearoa New Zealand might consider its inclusion into our foreign policy, and our approach to international engagement. 

Space policy is growing in importance globally.  There are more states, more actors, more interests, more opportunities, and more risks in this area than at any time previously. And most of them require in fact obligate a commitment to a global response – much like climate change, responding to a global pandemic and indeed the pursuit of peace and stability. 

Indigenous Wisdom As A Star Path

Before I turn to the consideration of space foreign policy, I want to propose that we have much to learn from indigenous peoples around the world. This applies also to the formation of space policy.

Polynesian ancestors traversed the Pacific Ocean in the quest to seek out new lands, an abundance of resources, and a place to call home.

So when the great migration of my tūpuna arrived to these shores, they already had an advanced knowledge base of the universe, the natural environment, navigation and survival. Much of that understanding was forged through decades of observation of star patterns, the flight path and migration of birds, ocean currents and tidal sequences, of winds, currents and flotsam. 

But critical to that navigation were the stars and where and when they appear on the horizon.  With neither modern instruments nor printed maps, Polynesian navigators could memorize and chart accurate journeys of thousands of miles to reach tiny island destinations. They assessed the existence of these distant and larger southerly islands and navigated the stars and signs to find them.     

When here, akin to many peoples who live close to nature, they depended for survival on the cycles and patterns of the seasons. For some 600 years, Māori were guided by moon and stars in their cycles of land preparation, planting and harvest and in the timing of hunting and fishing.

By using the maramataka the lunar calendar, knowledge was passed down and survival guaranteed. The depth of this knowledge was held by tohunga often in whare wānanga and passed on with much care, growing in depth and local content over time.

I’m sure there are similarities with European navigational techniques and knowledge systems.

Our challenge is to draw on the wisdom of both.

Given that whakapapa, maybe it is no surprise that space remains a bold and innovative part of our national endeavour.

In 2017, New Zealand joined just a handful of countries that are launch nations, through the vision and work of Rocket Lab which, like those earlier ventures, saw not limits, but only possibility. In order for that possibility to be transformative for our nation, it needs to reflect the wisdom of indigenous insight to create intergenerational advantage and stewardship or kaitiakitanga.

Space A Final Frontier or A New Horizon?

People may be forgiven for wondering why space is all of a sudden such a big foreign policy issue. Why did the Prime Minister spend time discussing space with the President and Vice President of the United States during her visit last month? Why, indeed, has this year’s Otago Foreign Policy School turned its gaze to space policy?

One reason is that space services are now ubiquitous and important.  In 2022, space infrastructure and data touch on almost all aspects of modern life. Precise position, navigation, and timing data is critical to our economy, underpinning financial transactions, efficient supply chains, and services relying on global navigation satellite systems - from airliners, to property titles, to pizza delivery. Remote sensing data supports weather forecasting, climate monitoring, cutting edge agricultural systems, and enables sovereign states to safeguard national security and national interests.

A second reason is that space is not subject to national appropriation. Space cannot be exclusively owned; and while a growing number and variety of actors are present in space and many more are using space-dependent services, no-one can regulate it alone.  Like the oceans, the climate, or the earth’s biodiversity, we have no option but to work collectively to agree and define the rules that govern this common domain and vital resource.

Thirdly, space carries risks and is at risk.  As with all commons, the potential for abuse of the commons is ever present. Space is not empty, but increasingly congested and contested.  Unilateral actions have the potential to do unintended, rapid and lasting damage.  And space also carries the risk that it is used in ways that threaten the security of states and people.  Space is of strategic importance. In the old manuscripts of my tribe there is a reference that space has the properties of water – ‘he wai katoa’. In that regard perhaps the international legal framework is akin to the way we think about international waters and the rules and norms expressed in UNCLOS.

Matariki, Tautoru, Tawera Guide Our Approach

In the traditional knowledge of my ancestors there are recitations that speak of a certain time that will pass and it engenders peace, prosperity and wellbeing. More precisely the star patterns that demarcate this time in the lunar calendar is the placement of Matariki (Pleiades), Tautoru (Orion’s belt) and Tāwera (Venus).

First, Matariki (Pleiades) denotes the beginning of the Maori New Year, a time to recognise those that have been lost, celebrate that which we have and seed intention for the time ahead.

Space is for all humankind

Space is for all humankind and therefore we must think about its sustainable wellbeing.  

The Outer Space Treaty, adopted more than half a century ago, recognised that outer space was the province of all humankind and should therefore be used for the benefit of all countries, irrespective of their state of development. This provided a clear, purposeful and overarching legal principle to guide the development and use of space.  It was relevant in 1967 and remains even more relevant now.  As a country we firmly endorse this principle and support its ongoing application. Drawing on indigenous concepts and the evolution of legal frameworks to truly capture the essence of stewardship or kaitiakitanga of space, Aotearoa New Zealand could introduce a similar concept to space as we have done for example for the absolute protection of the Whanganui River and recognising space as a ‘living entity’. Treating space like an ancestor with rules and norms to guide decision-making and behaviours would certainly invoke a different mentality for nation states around the world.

Second, Tāwera (Venus). My understanding is that is a fixed point in the night sky and the brightest planet that can be seen during the time of Matariki. Space must be kept peaceful and we should reject the potential of militarising it.  The Outer Space Treaty provides an enduring framework for addressing some of these issues, but is insufficient for managing space in the 21st century. As a small country, Aotearoa New Zealand has always sought to establish, maintain, and protect rules-based systems. It is no different for space.  This protective principle relates closely to our positions on global environment issues and on non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control. We must be precautionary when there are serious risks at stake. The principle of peace and stability must be an abiding factor to ensure multilateral commitment towards space.

Thirdly Tautoru (Orions Belt) is a star constellation that can be seen from the northern and southern hemispheres. In this regard, space holds opportunities from which New Zealand, alongside other nation states seek to benefit. New Zealand’s rapidly developing space industry provides us with significant economic opportunities, including for researchers and high paying, highly skilled jobs up and down the value chain. Our industry has strengthened existing relationships and provided the catalyst for new ones. But all this has to be balanced against our obligations to ensure we, both as a launch state and as a nation dependent on space data, work with others to keep space a peaceful domain and used in a sustainable way. In many instances we have seen the benefits of collaborative research – protein innovation, in the Antarctic, to create a vaccine for a global pandemic, the innovation of artificial intelligence, and the list goes on. By integrating western science and traditional knowledge there is further potential for dynamic innovation in space.

Engagement on space policy needs to be broad and inclusive. To that end, the Minister for Economic and Regional Development, recently announced a public consultation on space policy, to be conducted later this year. As a government, we are keen to hear from a wide range of voices. In announcing this consultation, we have specifically noted the need to recognise Māori interests in space, as we are a relatively new entrant into the space matters.  Our policy machinery had to move at speed to put in place the legal, regulatory and policy settings that ensure New Zealanders can take the economic opportunities this exciting sector provides, in a manner consistent with our values.

There is room for continued improvement but the thinking and engagement with Māori must be deliberate and reflect te Tiriti o Waitangi.

As an example, last year, my colleague, Minister Woods, announced Project Tāwhaki, a joint venture between the government and Ngai Tahu to develop the site at Kaitōrete spit. The purpose of this is to protect the taonga and habitats of this unique location, while drawing on its suitability as a site for aerospace development. This project acknowledges Kaitōrete as a significant ongoing cultural landscape for Ngai Tahu. It is right that mana whenua for this land have a role in the development and protection of this area, the industry and the supporting policy.

Matariki Ahunga Nui – A time of Shared Prosperity

At last year’s School, I outlined how Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique identity and values inform and advance our foreign policy. This is true in space also.

Some might see space policy as somehow futuristic, requiring a new framework.  I am clear that our longstanding values of Kaitiakitanga, kotahitanga and mahi tahi are fundamental to how we should think about space. These principles require that, even as we pursue our interests, we think carefully about our relationship to space, with others, with the world, and with the future.

Space is a domain where we can ensure our collective activities benefit our commitment to humanity and our ongoing survival. This is a value that Aotearoa New Zealand holds – but one rightly enshrined as a legal requirement in the Outer Space Treaty.

Perhaps most important, is kaitiakitanga or guardianship. This is fundamental to a tirohanga Māori and indigenous view.  We are not owners of space, but stewards for its future, for the benefit of future generations.  With use comes deep responsibilities. The space environment, particularly the low earth orbit, is a finite resource that must be protected for the future. 

These values all require that a long-term intergenerational view drives today’s decisions.  Space is a taonga; it is precious.  Kaitiakitanga seeks to allow use while safeguarding this environment from degradation. Much like other shared resources, the sooner we can put in place regimes to manage its sustainability, the better.

Aotearoa as a responsible Launch Nation

Of course, a key context and contributor to Aotearoa New Zealand’s emerging space foreign policy, is our status as a launch nation and the opportunities, issues and interests that come with that status. 

We want to ensure the domestic and international conditions that allow a modern, innovative, inclusive and growing domestic industry to develop in a responsible and peaceful manner.

Rocket Lab’s success has proven to be the catalyst for development of a vibrant space sector in Aotearoa New Zealand. A 2019 report by Deloitte estimated the sector contributed $1.69 billion to our economy. This includes a range of firms in the value chain supporting hundreds of highly skilled jobs. The world class research and development being carried out by New Zealand companies and research institutions also holds much promise for coming years.

New Zealand’s Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act is a world leading regime for regulating space activities. It provides a predictable regulatory environment for industry while protecting our national interests, adhering to our international obligations, and leading the international conversation on sustainability.

The Act allows the responsible Minister, my colleague Minister Nash as the Minister for Economic and Regional Development, to decline a payload approval if it is not considered in the national interest. In 2019, Cabinet agreed four principles to guide the Minister’s decision making on what is in the national interest. These include sustainability, safety, responsibility, and alignment with New Zealand’s values, policies, interests, and laws.

Consistent with this, Cabinet also approved four categories of payloads that are not in the national interest. These include:

  • payloads that contribute to nuclear weapons programmes of capabilities
  • payloads with the intended end use of harming, interfering with, or destroying other spacecraft, or space systems on Earth
  • payloads with the intended end use of supporting or enabling specific defence, security, or intelligence operations that are contrary to government policy
  • and payloads where the intended end use is likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to the environment.

When we passed the OSHAA Act in 2017, Parliament understood that this was a fast moving and constantly innovating industry; it built in a review mechanism following three years of operation. That review has just been completed and the findings tabled in Parliament. Over the coming months, officials will report to Ministers on the outcomes of the review, including whether any further amendments to the Act are required.

In the future review, I would hope that further consideration be given to the approach set out in this speech to enable greater congruence with the values and knowledge system of indigenous peoples and a responsible approach towards  opportunities  space innovation.

Ko Te Kawa O Runga - Responsible Behaviours

The nature and unique challenges of space call for the deployment of the broad range of tools available to us. Conflict or accidents in space are a particular concern, with potential for major consequences. The destruction of space craft and equipment which causes debris, creates a greater risk of collisions, and the potential for catastrophic problems.

And of course there is the prospect of conflict in space potentially provoking conflict on Earth.

Because space is largely unregulated by rules and norms to govern behaviour, this can cause uncertainty and mistrust, and elevate room for misperception and misunderstanding. It is a small step from there to perceptions of threat, rising tension and miscalculation.

As an international community, we need to find and agree ways to facilitate beneficial space operations while guarding against the misperception of malign intent.

We support the UK-led responsible behaviours initiative at the United Nations.  We participated in the first session of the open ended working group on responsible behaviours in outer space in Geneva in May. This work recognises that, while the world may not currently be in a position to rule out certain capabilities, we should be able to come to agreement on how the behaviour of operators can reduce the perception of threat.  

Beyond the kinetic threats in space, this work also recognises non-kinetic threats that also need to be addressed – for example, cyber-attacks on space infrastructure, jamming of signals, and directed energy attacks designed to impair sensors on satellites. 

We are only at the beginning of that process, but we are optimistic that this approach can lead to a pragmatic and constructive outcome. Aotearoa New Zealand sees this as a first step. It will take time and will require ongoing attention to ensure the rules remain fit for purpose. Eventually, this may mean the negotiation of a comprehensive legally binding treaty. 

Risks of conflict in space are not hypothetical. Recent years have seen a number of direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests - missiles launched from Earth to intercept satellites in orbit. 

Not only do such tests create debris clouds and risk to space infrastructure, they also raise tensions on Earth and increase potential for the misperceptions I have discussed.

Russia’s destructive anti-satellite missile test carried out in November last year created 1,500 pieces of trackable debris, which resulted in astronauts aboard the International Space Station being advised to take shelter in their docked capsules in case debris collided with the ISS itself. 

Our Government has been very clear – these tests are irresponsible.  For that reason, we welcome the United States’ declaration in April this year that it will not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests and its call on all countries with the capability to make the same commitment.

Today I’m pleased to announce that Aotearoa New Zealand will join this declaration and make the same commitment. We will not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing. We do not have that capability, and neither are we looking to develop it.

But our commitment is a further expression of our multilateral commitment towards establishment of rules and norms for te tātai arorangi.

Ko Rona, Ko Artemis Ko Tātou Katoa!

Another significant recent development has been the Artemis Accords. Now I understand that Artemis is a goddess of the moon and also of hunting. Our story of Rona being entrapped by the moon seems an appropriate connection. Rona now represents the dark and light phases of the moon - guiding tides and appropriate times for fishing, hunting, planting and gathering food.

Back to Artemis who represents the hunter and gatherer of food.

In 2020, the United States invited New Zealand as one of a small group of countries to collaborate on the development of a set of principles to guide the next phase in space exploration. These principles became known as the Artemis Accords, which New Zealand signed in June 2021.  

Signing the Artemis Accords was a strong signal that Aotearoa New Zealand is committed to ensuring the next phase of space exploration is conducted in a safe, sustainable, and transparent manner and in full compliance with international law.

One key aspect of the Artemis Accords concerns the utilisation of space resources. Existing international law provides some high level rules which apply to space resource utilisation – including that any such activity must be for the benefit and in the interests of all countries. But there are some significant gaps especially regarding long-term sustainable management of space resources and the space environment. I have already outlined the unique perspective that Aotearoa New Zealand can bring to that conversation in particular integrating indigenous perspectives in space policy.

The Artemis Accords are another step towards achieving that objective. There are 19 members, from a diverse range of countries. In recent months we have welcomed Colombia, Bahrain, and Singapore as the newest members. Our next step is to take the principles enshrined in the Accords, with the support of the growing membership, and seek to turn these plurilateral principles into a multilateral instrument.


In closing, I will return to where I began.  Our contribution to the development of space policy can draw on indigenous values and concepts that can broaden the way we think about shared interests, mutual obligations, intergenerational stewardship, and what is often referred to as the concept of “the commons”.

Space remains a bold and innovative part of our national endeavour. As we engage in space matters, we must remind ourselves that it’s also a part of our legacy and identity.

You will have noted, from the perspective I have conveyed, that an approach to space policy is not so different to other areas of our foreign policy.  Our modus operandi is to work with others, large and small, multilateral, plurilateral, or bilateral - where we share values and a purpose and where we see genuine potential to make gains.

In an era of strategic competition, space has acquired a heightened level of importance and presents new risks. That’s why we must develop rules to safeguard a common good in this domain. Our contribution must reflect the values I have mentioned, advance our interests, and build on our ability to work collaboratively, inclusively, and innovatively with others. There is an urgent need to modernise the multilateral rules architecture and that will be a priority.

And as we bring new thinking through the innovation of companies like Rocket Lab, we must also seek to advance innovative thinking on legislative approaches. We are not new to innovative management of common resources on Earth, whether that be the sustainable management of fisheries, the preservation of threatened species or the creation of legal personality in the natural domain, evident in Te Awa Tupua. 

Finally, let me draw on the wisdom of voyagers, navigators and great adventurers when they said;

“Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata,

Ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tīna!”

“Seek out distant horizons, and cherish those you attain”

We want to see space used for the benefit of all humankind; we want to see it protected, peaceful and sustainable; and we want to continue to draw on its benefits, alongside others - but not at the risk of te tātai arorangi - or Space itself.

Thank you.