[Documents menu]History of Oceania in general
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 97 22:03:44 CDT
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Document Highlights Australia-NZ Tensions

Document Highlights Australia-NZ Tensions

By Patrick Brown, in the Militant
Vol. 61, no. 31 (15 September 1997)

AUCKLAND - A briefing paper of the Australian government leaked during July has caused a controversy in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. According to a report in the July 19 issue of the Auckland daily The New Zealand Herald, '"the paper was prepared jointly by the Australian Foreign Ministry and Treasury for the Treasurer, Peter Costello, as a briefing for a meeting last weekend of economic ministers from the 16-member South Pacific Forum.'"

The paper highlights growing conflicts between Canberra and Wellington over policy towards the South Pacific. It criticizes the New Zealand government for its '"initiative in hosting'" recent negotiations involving forces from Bougainville, saying it '"did not fully consult Australia,'" and points to emerging differences over the Indonesian military takeover of East Timor.

The New Zealand Herald reports that the '"93-page document - marked 'AUSTEO' meaning Australian Eyes Only - divides the 14 island states [the Forum excluding New Zealand and Australia] into six groups, based on economic and social conditions, with headlines such as 'Melanesian mayhem,' 'Imprudent Micronesians' and 'Bottom of the heap.' '"

The only substantial sections of the document published verbatim by the New Zealand Herald deal with the New Zealand government. The paper states that '"New Zealand policy in the South Pacific is a mix of cooperation and competition with Australia...'"

'"Old habits die hard,'" the paper continues, '"and many politicians and officials in Wellington still like to believe that New Zealand, because of its smaller size, links to Polynesia and Maori and Islander population, is part of the Pacific in a way that Australia is not and understands the region better.'"

The paper criticizes '"New Zealand's early response to Australian efforts to promote economic reform in the South Pacific,'" but states that '"because of the threat to [Wellington's] interests posed by the problems of its associated territories in the Cook Islands and Niue [prime minister James] Bolger and Foreign Minister [Don] McKinnon have become more robust with the island countries over economic reform.'"

The government document refers here to austerity measures imposed on the Cook Islands by its former colonial ruler, the New Zealand government, in 1996. '"Even so,'" warns the paper, '"we still cannot assume that New Zealand will support Australian policy because of a continuing desire for 'product differentiation.' '"

The text describes the New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, as a '"loose cannon,'" and an '"opportunist'" who '"would not be above exploiting New Zealand sensitivities towards Australia.'" No minister in the New Zealand coalition government has objected to the remarks about Pacific Island states. An article in the New Zealand Herald of July 27 reported that '"high-level Australian sources'" said '"material from New Zealand intelligence helped to form the damaging Australian assessments of Pacific leaders and countries.'" Bolger refused to comment on this report. He and other leading National Party Cabinet ministers have consistently played down the importance of the leaked paper.

Figures in New Zealand First, the minority partner in the coalition government and a party marked by sharp nationalism and rightist policies, have taken a different tack. The New Zealand First deputy leader and minister for Maori affairs, Tau Henare, said the report's description of Winston Peters was '"absolutely nasty... They are a pack of mongrels as far as I am concerned. And I would ask the Australian government to apologize.'"

Winston Peters apologized for Henare's remarks and deflected the blame for the report from the Australian government. The rightist politician instead ascribed the report to '"dingoistic'" bureaucrats. The dingo is a native Australian dog.

To get an introductory 12-week subscription to the Militant in the U.S., send $10 US to: The Militant, 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.

For subscription rates to other countries, send e-mail to themilitant@igc.apc.org or write to the above address.

[World History Archives] [Gateway to World History] [Images from World History] [Hartford Web Publishing]