NEW ZEALAND by Bernard MoranNews Weekly
, December 18, 1999
NZ Labour victory takes defence, social policies to the Left
New Zealand correspondent Bernard Moran explains that the country's new Labour Government is dominated by stagers from the old Left. A lot of social engineering is on the agenda.
However, the new government has had an unexpected setback with postal voters (mainly from Australia) pushing the Greens into Parliament and thereby denying the Labour-Alliance coalition a majority on the floor of the House.
A few days before Kiwis went to the polls on November 27, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was asked to state her vision for New Zealand.
'I want,' she responded in her highly unctuous, breathy voice, 'for all New Zealanders to share in the excitement.'
The problem was that most of the voters weren't feeling too excited. After nine years in power, the National Government appeared uninspired and often incompetent. Mrs Shipley's penchant for Saatchi and Saatchi adspeak irritated many. It was time for a change
The strong swing to the Left gives Labour and the Alliance clear control of Parliament and signals the end of the 15-year old experiment in hands-off economics. Labour with 38.9 per cent will easily dominate the coalition with five times the vote of its partner, the Alliance.
The New Zealand Parliament now has 35 women, 16 Maori and the first transvestite MP, Georgina Beyer, former mayor of Carterton. Another two male Labour MPs are openly homosexual.
The next Parliamentary term of three years is going to be critical to the future of family life in New Zealand. Items on the political agenda include:
Same-sex marriage, or legal recognition of homosexual relationships. The Ministry of Justice has already released a discussion paper, with submissions due by March 31, 2000. Sympathetic newspaper and television interviews with same-sex couples, who have children, are serving to 'soften up' the public for this legal and cultural change.
Legal recognition of de facto relationships. The De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill is likely to be included as a package with same sex issues.
Decriminalisation of cannabis. The Parliamentary Health Select Committee held an inquiry into cannabis earlier this year, and concluded that law reform is required.
Reviewing all legislation before 2001 to ensure compliance with the Human Rights Act. This will effectively outlaw any pro-marriage policy on the basis that it 'discriminates'. It will also lead to pressure to change the Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage.
Amending the Education Act to make sex education compulsory and remove parental rights to withdraw children from such classes. This is a follow on from the new health curriculum introduced this year, which affirms homosexuality and fails to address marriage in a substantial or positive way.
In 1989, Helen Clark successfully introduced an amendment enabling female minors to have abortions with full confidentiality and without parental consent. In 1990, she achieved the repeal of the law forbidding access and instruction in contraceptives to under 16s.
Other items yet to be officially initiated, but have been touted as likely to appear, include the legislation of prostitution and reviewing abortion laws to fully sanction the current abortion on offer situation.
A key player likely to drive the social agenda is Margaret Wilson, Dean of the Law School at Waikato University, tipped to be appointed as Attorney General and Minister of Treaty Settlements (Waitangi Treaty). A former Labour Party President in 1986-87, Margaret Wilson has strong feminist credentials, is an accomplished networker and 'insider' of the powerful Labour Policy Council.
In 1986, she was a patron of the Labour Party Nicaragua Support Committee and in July of that year accompanied by Helen Clark, visited Nicaragua en route to the Socialist International meeting in Peru.
Margaret Wilson went to the Soviet Union in January 1987, with Fran Wilde, Labour Party Secretary, Tony Timms and party functionary Alison Timms. The NZ Herald (January 28) reported on her 10-day visit and comments to a Soviet interpreter 'stressing the importance of direct public contacts, especially since the middle classes in New Zealand lack objective information and are heavily indoctrinated.'
Peace issues featured on her agenda, she told one group, 'We are hoping we will be re-elected as a government and we can develop programs for peace.'
She said the Labour Government would retain its Western ties, but added: 'We are trying to establish a more independent position. We know that this doesn't always meet the approval of the United States. '
Her friendship with Sian Elias, New Zealand's first woman Chief Justice, goes back to when they were contemporaries at the Auckland Law School from 1966 to 1970. Chief Justice Elias was appointed in March this year, amid much rejoicing from the feminist cultural elite, who perceived her as one of their own who has made it to the top. She has has a brilliant career and is expected to take an important role in advancing social change through case law.
There is an ideological symbiosis within the bureaucracies of the Ministries of Health, Justice and Education. A senior Cabinet Minister in the previous Shipley Government once told me that almost without exception staff were committed to a secular liberal world view: 'They were like clones', he commented ruefully.
These elements as a whole form a critical mass for effecting the social agenda.
Like many of her contemporaries, Prime Minister Helen Clark was active in anti-Vietnam protests. In 1984, she was the pivotal influence in ensuring that United States warships were banned from New Zealand waters and the enactment of anti-nuclear legislation.
Helen Clark also took a close interest in the Philippines. In an article entitled 'Aquino's Lost Options', published in the NZ Listener, May 16, 1987, writer Gordon Campbell reported: 'To date, says Helen Clark, ÔCory Aquino has not even begun to address the poverty in which seven out of ten Filippinos now live'. Clark, the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee, visited the Philippines early this year and her verdict on Aquino's first year in office is mixed.'
When Filipino Intelligence officers raided an underground safe house in Manila on the night of March 24, 1988, they not only captured leading hard liners of the Communist Party of the Philippines New Peoples' Army, but also 97 computer discs.
I have in my possession a photocopy of a three-page document from one of those discs. It is headed 'Workshop 1: Party to Party Relations, June 13, 1986'.
It deals with overseas work and those who are in consultation with the International Department of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). On page three, line eight, Helen Clark is listed as the 'individual link' for New Zealand.
Which brings us to defence matters and how the armed services will fare under the Labour/Alliance coalition. At the time of writing, ministerial portfolios have not yet been decided by the coalition Cabinet, so we don't know who will be the new Minister of Defence.
Both Helen Clark and Jim Anderton were strongly opposed to the ANZAC Frigate Project, preferring that the Navy be equipped with smaller patrol craft. It is very unlikely that a third ANZAC frigate will be purchased, no matter how strong the case.
Helen Clark said earlier this year that if Labour became the Government, the recent leasing of a squadron of F-16 fighters would be cancelled. Most recently, she said that the terms of the lease would be carefully examined to see if there is an escape clause. Both Labour and the Alliance maintain that New Zealand does not need and cannot afford the luxury of a combat air arm. Instead the RNZAF's role should be limited to maritime rescue and transport.
However, there is the reality of the commitment to East Timor. New Zealand's armed forces are geared to serving as 'peace keepers' for the United Nations, which renders them more politically acceptable to the new Government. East Timor is a United Nations' operation and, significantly, Phil Goff, who is being tipped as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, was an observer in Dili for the independence vote and narrowly escaped harm as the terror unfolded. He will bring first-hand advocacy to Cabinet deliberations on the East Timor deployment.
Within the past two years, the National Government increasingly sought through back door diplomacy to manoeuvre around the constraints of the anti-nuclear statutes, in seeking a rapproachment with the United States over defence ties and training.
On the face of things, that process appears unlikely to develop further given the ideological complexion of the new Government. But Prime Minister Helen Clark has always been regarded as cautious and astutely pragmatic in dealing with matters of realpolitik.
Former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger has had an effective three years as ambassador in Washington DC, and Helen Clark is expected to keep him on there, to look after NZ's interests should the next Administration be Republican.