Speech to the Diplomatic Corps, Wellington

Minister of Foreign Affairs speech to the Diplomatic Corps,
7pm 3 April 2019


Tēnā koutou katoa.

Can we begin by acknowledging High Commissioner Scanlan and the many Heads of Mission gathered here. Thank you for the invitation to speak with you tonight.

This invitation was accepted long before March 15th, a day which irrevocably changed this country.  And so instead of talking with you about everything which is normal about our international relationships, we now talk about that which is different.

It is no exaggeration to say that something of New Zealand’s innocence was shattered that day. Shattered by an utterly callous act of terrorism, perpetrated against people at prayer in the Deans Avenue and Linwood Mosques by a coward.

As said in parliament, an attack on any New Zealander worshipping peacefully is an attack on all of us.

All our sympathies and our support lie with the victims – those who lost their lives, the loved ones they left behind, those injured, and the wider Muslim community.

Some of you here this evening lost nationals. We again express our profound condolences to you. We also wish to acknowledge your professionalism for there can be no more harrowing duty for a diplomat than assisting bereaved families far from home. 

New Zealand’s Response

Police are now conducting their largest ever investigation, with more than 250 staff committed to ensuring that justice is served.

The Prime Minister has epitomised empathy and unity as she has led us through this moment of national tragedy. Her compassion has been a guiding example for all of us.

The Prime Minister’s resolve reflects that of her Cabinet. Together, we have focused our collective effort on Christchurch, and in particular caring for the Muslim victims and their families.

The weapons used by the terrorist are now banned in New Zealand.  Urgent legislation is progressing through Parliament at this very moment to give effect to our total ban on semi-automatics and assault rifles.

We are confronting the way social media is used to spread hatred. The Prime Minister has talked about our intent to do what we can to prevent the internet being used again to spread such hate-filled, horrific content.

And, because this is a matter of the gravest national importance, Cabinet has decided that a Royal Commission of Inquiry will examine how this act of terrorism occurred. It will make recommendations on how any future attack might be avoided.

International Solidarity

When the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation invited us to appear at its Extraordinary Meeting in Istanbul twelve days ago, it was imperative that we went to Istanbul not simply to share our sadness.

We wanted to show representatives of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims how our community has responded to this terrorist atrocity. So at that meeting with Foreign Ministers and Representatives from the 57 states of the OIC we showed a video. The footage contained images of New Zealanders’ compassion – the spontaneous outpouring of grief that you have all seen in person.

It also showed New Zealand’s Parliament opening for the first time in its history with an Islamic prayer.  A prayer that rung out in the presence of a number of Imams and representatives of other faiths.  

OIC members saw with their own eyes ordinary New Zealanders coming out to stand in implacable opposition to the hate and extremism of the terrorist. 

You will have gained a sense from the official communique of 57 Islamic countries of their standing in solidarity with New Zealand.  What cannot come across from that communique is the raw emotion that all those in attendance felt, unified in our sadness and resolve.

Foreign Policy Implications?

You may be wondering whether New Zealand’s foreign policy settings will shift in light of the Christchurch attacks. The answer is that while the act of terrorism disrupted our national life, for a time, New Zealand’s foreign policy continuity is not disturbed because its foundations are deeply rooted in our national values and experience.

You will recall that the last time we spoke was at Waitangi in February.

At Waitangi you would have seen our foundations as a nation and as a society, and experienced the values that drive us:

  • Equality and fairness.
  • Democracy – one person, one vote, since 1893.
  • Freedom, from fear, and from want.
  • Human rights, as set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration.
  • Kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, for our environment.

Our foreign policy will always be driven by clear-eyed assessment of New Zealand interests and these bedrock New Zealand values.

But we recognise that achieving solutions that advance our interests, and align with our values, depends on the ability to work with other countries.

The Prime Minister said in her first major foreign policy speech: ‘we speak up for what we believe in, stand up when our values are challenged, and work tirelessly to draw in partners with shared views.’

And, when our interests diverge, we will want to deal with any differences openly and honestly.

You will have seen this in action over the past few weeks.

Rules-based system

Our values do not just drive our commitment to the rules-based system. They define the nature of the rules-based order we are working for, and the ways that we work with the countries you represent to advance it.

We live by the principle that our shared interests can best be secured through global rules and norms that advance our values. Rules that treat all states – and all individuals – equally and fairly; where our disputes are settled peacefully; where the playing field is level.

In these complex and challenging times, we recognise more than ever that we must collaborate with partners who know us, value us, and trust us. We must work with all of you, in different ways and in different contexts, to rebuild multilateralism: to defend its strengths; to modernise it, where reform is needed; and to push for bold solutions.

The United Nations is at the heart of the rules-based system and, as we found in our Security Council term, remains the only forum for collective action on some of the toughest issues.

In the UN and beyond, we work with diverse coalitions of like-minded countries across the multilateral agenda:

  • Our support and advocacy for Small Island Developing States. 
  • The Carbon Neutrality Coalition New Zealand champions.
  • The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases we helped found.
  • The Inclusive Trade Action Group we formed with Canada and Chile. 
  • Our long-standing involvement in the New Agenda Coalition on nuclear disarmament.
  • And on emerging security threats, with new coalitions of like-minded countries, to counter cyber threats and ensure the peaceful use of outer space.

Small states and major powers

We work with all of you in different like-minded coalitions. But there are some of you whose global influence and reach is such that it is felt across every single one of these issues.

Small states tend to be judged by the strength, or even the temperature, of their major power relationships.

But that is not how we see these relationships. We judge the success of our relationships with the United States, or the European Union, or China, by what we can achieve together.

Regional security and architecture

Whatever we call our region, we are strongly committed to strengthening regional architecture: shared frameworks, rules and norms, both to maximise opportunities and to manage risks.

Those who will be here in 2021 will see unmistakeable evidence of New Zealand’s commitment to regional architecture, as we host APEC 21. New Zealand will host at a pivotal time in APEC’s history – the first year of APEC’s post-2020 Vision, setting new goals for regional integration and trade. Planning is well underway to welcome the 20 APEC economies and Leaders in true New Zealand style.

We see this as our part of a collective effort. The regional architecture, much of it built around the hard work of our ASEAN partners over decades, now helps us to capitalise on the great good fortune of our region.

As home to the world’s largest and fasted growing economies New Zealand navigates through regional security issues as they arise; strengthens our cooperative response to natural disasters; and helps address trans-boundary security threats like terrorism and irregular migration.

Good architecture helps to avoid false choices. New Zealand would rather invest in strengthening the institutions which can help to manage conflict, than face false choices between bilateral relationships.


In conclusion, we wish you to know of New Zealand’s appreciation to the international community for its response during our moment of need.

We have gratefully accepted offers of practical support from close friends, most especially Australia, as we grapple with the complex nature of responding to the Christchurch attack.

Without doubt, there are challenges facing New Zealand, the Pacific, our wider region, and the rules-based system. But we remain fundamentally optimistic.

New Zealand has much to be grateful for. Our economic fundamentals are strong. We are investing in the social issues that are holding other nations back. Our international connections are diverse, and growing.

As much as everything has for us since March 15, foreign policy continuity and consistency, long the hallmarks of New Zealand’s foreign policy, remains our guide.