Speech to 63rd National Party Conference

  • Don McKinnon
Foreign Affairs and Trade

When you look at New Zealand on a map - isolated, alone - who would ever think that a country like this could be a global trader.

Well we are, and a successful one. But to continue to be successful, we have to keep working hard through our foreign and trade policy.

Foreign policy is like farming - you farm for today, but you farm today, for tomorrow, for the next season, and the next decade.

That's why this Party, in our last nine years in Government, has made greater foreign and trade policy strides than any other Government.

We have opened up a full range of multilateral, regional and bilateral relationships which will stand New Zealand in very good stead as we move into the new millennium.

Both Lockwood and I want to tell you about what we have done in the last nine years, and how we will continue to make real and sustainable gains in foreign and trade policy in the 21st century.

Remember we are 3.8 million people trying, like the 200 other countries in the world, to be taken seriously by the international community on a whole range of issues - security, trade, the environment, human rights and disarmament - so that we are listened to and we can have some influence. This ensures that New Zealand benefits from being a world citizen. It is not an easy task to be seen and heard and yet New Zealand has been successful and will continue to be successful, but we must not lose the momentum.

It you deal honestly, credibly and with commitment on the important issues facing the world community - you in turn get credibility yourselves. You see, it is easy to make grand gestures about foreign policy from the soft armchair of the Opposition - but it is harder to work at your foreign and trade policy objectives - diligently, quietly, effectively not always seeking headlines.

New Zealand's work is now known around the world.

You will remember that in 1990 we inherited a relationship with the United States which was in tatters. Despite the set back on lamb, the world's only economic and military superpower is our third largest trading market - and will continue to be in into the next century.

And the President does answer our Prime Minister's phone calls. We have also managed to do what the previous Government could not - put the nuclear ships issue to one side, and get on with the rest of the bilateral relationship.

Through the work of the Prime Minister, Lockwood Smith, Simon Upton and others, we now have a relationship with the USA which is healthier then ever and capable of dealing with issues face to face, not through the mail. New Zealand does "box above its weight" in the international community. Look where it started. Fifty years ago, New Zealand predominately traded with Great Britain. We now trade with 200 countries around the world, with no one market dominant. For that reason, we need to "get on" with a huge number of countries - importantly the United States, but also a range of other key world players.

We dialogue effectively with all of the world powers on equal terms. We keep in touch with them all at a range of levels, and on a whole range of issues and it is important that we do so.

For Lockwood and I its hours and days and weeks of travel and even then you won't get everywhere you want to.

The UN is important to us. Our active engagement in and influence in international forums can help tremendously in our bilateral relationships with many partners. The United Nations brings 187 nations together. Our voice in the forum is probably among a handful of genuinely respected impartial voices - we are seen as constructive, and not aligned to any one bloc. That is why we got our two year stint on the Security Council.

We did so because we were seen by a majority of UN nations as steady, constructive, sensible and approachable. That sort of reputation, enhanced as it was by our time on the Security Council, has a positive spill-over in our bilateral and trading relations with other countries. This Government has not shied away from the tough foreign policy decisions.

As an international citizen we have committed New Zealand men and women to often dangerous situations - in the last nine years we have sent over 4000 men and women to 41 peace keeping missions around the world.

These missions have kept our defence forces in a solid state of preparedness. They have not all been easy. Some have been pretty rugged assignments in harsh parts of the world, but we made the decision that we had to do our part to help make the world a secure place, and it has paid dividends for New Zealand. Not just dividends in terms of our fellow New Zealanders. But also dividends in terms of our wider relationship with the world. New Zealand will play its part we will not put our head in the sand.

This Party and this Government has got New Zealand back on the world stage. Whereas our opponents will do their best to hide at the bottom of the South Pacific once again.

Make no mistake about that.

Helen Clark and Jim Anderton have, one way or another, opposed almost every peace keeping initiative we took and no new peacekeeping commitments were made by the last Labour Government.

You see, our opponents don't want to engage with our defence forces - they want to sit in comfortable chairs telling the world what to do, while thugs like Milosovic run amok with his ethnic cleansing. Kosovo is a good example of what divides us from Labour.

National came out strongly in favour of the NATO action in Kosovo, we allowed refugee's to come to New Zealand, we sent humanitarian aid. There was no alternative, and the vast majority of New Zealanders, backed us. But not the Labour/Alliance bloc. No, Helen Clark and Jim Anderton said that the Government should not have supported NATO's actions - that the UN should have continued to negotiate.

They were wrong. Badly wrong. Events and atrocities in Kosovo by Milosovic's hoodlum's proves how badly they misread the situation. While two year old, four year old and eight year old children were being murdered by this Serbian thug, Labour and the Alliance were telling people "you must just keep talking", "don't use NATO", "you must wait for UN consent."

When will they learn the lessons of history. New Zealand doesn't sit back - New Zealanders don't expect us to. We are prepared to stand up for what is right - that is what makes us different from our opponents.

The Environment concerns all of us and Simon Upton's chairing of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Developments this year saw greater movement on the world's environmental issues since the Rio Summit in '92. Also his personal success with twenty Environment Ministers in Antarctica in January. He is clearly the most informed and experienced Environment Minister in the world. But building relationships with our regional neighbours is always very important.

And we have succeeded in this because we treat our smaller neighbours the way that we, as a small country, wish to be treated by larger countries. Most notably, in Bougainville, we got involved and through careful negotiations, we managed to coax the warring factions over 15 months towards a Ceasefire. We got them to New Zealand for talks, and I traveled to Bougainville on many occasions, and we got a breakthrough. Not by imposing our solutions but by getting them onto neutral territory and giving them time, space and encouragement.

It worked and paid dividends. Our pacific friends know that New Zealand is willing to play a real part in this region.

The result: New Zealand is taken seriously. Our opinion is sought. Our troops do contribute to a huge range of peace keeping, de-mining, humanitarian and other projects around the world. If we look at New Zealand as NZ Inc - we are doing what any successful business does - taking our customers and clients seriously, and keeping them informed, listening to them, helping them when they need it and always alongside them at the right time.

New Zealand's reality is that we are an island nation at the end of the world, who can be ignored or can be taken seriously.

Nine years ago, this government decided that NZ wanted to be taken seriously, wanted to be listened too - we wanted to have our say. We regained credibility, we re-internationalised ourselves. We have worked hard, very hard to gain this status, and we are not going to let a Labour/Alliance bloc destroy that! That is what we have done - and what we will continue to do - quietly, effectively, efficiently. To help us move effectively into the next millennium, the Prime Minister has in initiated an External Relations Cabinet Team.

The whole purpose of this initiative is to ensure a much higher level of coordination by all new Zealand's external agencies, and to give them a greater degree of self sufficiency.

We need to be ready to respond to emerging markets, such as South America. If we want to perform like New Zealand Inc, we have to look like New Zealand Inc abroad. This team will ensure New Zealand keeps up with the play and makes New Zealand Inc a force to be reckoned with.

Now is the time for National to surge forward and secure the future for all New Zealanders.