New Zealand Labour Party

Andrew Little's International Affairs Speech

Tena Koutou Katoa

Can I begin by acknowledging:

  • Sir Doug Kidd, President, NZ Institute of International Affairs
  • Maty Nikkhou-O’Brien, Executive Director, who did all the organising for today’s event.
  • Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer.
  • Victoria University of Wellington law school, who are hosting
  • Members of the diplomatic corps
  • Distinguished guests

The last few months have been some of the most tumultuous in international affairs for many years.

Arguably the most dramatic was the decision of the British electorate to leave the EU.

The consequences of that decision are still being played out and will be for months and years to come.

The US presidential race will include a candidate more polarising than any we have seen for more than 50 years.

He has harnessed a resentment felt by people who feel marginalised and excluded from the economic and political system. And he’s not the only political candidate to have done so.

Economically, many parts of the world are struggling to achieve pre-GFC rates of growth, and this at a time when interest rates have never been lower, global trade ties have never been deeper and the movement of people never greater. 

I don't think it is too dramatic to say we may be at one of those junctures in global history that come around every 30 years or so where the established order and political orthodoxies are overwhelmed by either their own shortcomings or deep-seated public disillusion, or both.

Today, I want to talk about Labour’s history in foreign policy, and our take on some of the current issues in global affairs.

But most importantly, I want to talk about the global moment we inhabit today. It’s a moment of uncertainty, of growing insecurity. It’s a moment where more and more people feel left out.

The challenge for the world is how to build a global order where everyone has security – physical and economic – and where nobody is left out. And I want to talk about the international approach New Zealand should take to help achieve this.

Section 2: 100 years of Labour foreign policy

As many of you know, the New Zealand Labour party turned 100 this month.

Over this past century, part of Labour’s defining achievements in office have been its contributions to New Zealand’s foreign policy, and to international affairs in our region and worldwide.

Our foreign policy has always been guided, and continues to be guided, by four core principles.

2.1 Independence

The first is independence. We believe New Zealand should always make its foreign policy decisions based on an independent assessment of the facts, and on our own views about what action best helps the New Zealand people, and what it will contribute to a just world order.

It started with Peter Fraser who, learning the tragic lessons of World War One, insisted on a New Zealand command for our troops serving in World War Two.

It continued through Norman Kirk, the first New Zealand Prime Minister to take to the world stage to protest nuclear tests in our region.

And, most famously, it was David Lange who declared New Zealand the world’s first nuclear free country in the 1980s.

It is a real testament to the bipartisan nature of New Zealand’s independence that our nuclear-free stance came to be supported by all sides of the political divide in New Zealand.

Jim Bolger, Don McKinnon, and Winston Peters deserve credit for their roles in managing New Zealand’s international partnerships in the context of a decision some countries would rather we hadn’t made.

It’s now fair to say our opposition to nuclear weapons has transcended from a “streak,” and it now stands as a core part of New Zealand’s international identity.

The next Labour government plans to redouble our efforts towards international agreements that further reduce nuclear stockpiles, as we strive for a world free from the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.

Our fierce independence also allowed New Zealand to develop its international reputation as an honest broker. We are proud of that reputation, and of Labour’s part in building it.

That reputation has helped us to multiple terms on the UN Security Council; and it’s our fervent hope that it will help propel Helen Clark to the office of UN Secretary General later this year.

Our spirit of independence also extends to our closest international mate, Australia. If we see wrong being done, we will call them out on it, as we have done over their immigration policy and deportation decisions.

Doing so does not detract from our firm and enduring commitment to the highest quality bilateral relationship.

2.2 Engagement

Of course, the independence of our foreign policy has not lead – and will not lead – Labour into isolationism. Indeed, the second core principle underlying Labour’s foreign policy is a policy of engagement.

New Zealand has a proud record of lending a hand when countries around the world need our help.

That record spans World War 2, the first gulf war, Afghanistan, and many other international conflicts.

It involves patrolling one of the largest maritime search areas in the world.

And it involves a deep commitment to multilateral peacekeeping, including taking leadership roles in peacekeeping operations in our region.

In Labour, we take our regional responsibilities seriously. A democratic, prosperous Pacific region is in all our interests, not least for the substantial proportion of many Pacific communities residing in New Zealand.

This has been a bipartisan aspect of New Zealand’s foreign policy for a long time, and Labour will continue to strengthen it, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction and sustainable development.

2.3 Openness

Uniting the principles of independence and engagement is a very broad stance of openness. We’re open to both sides of an argument, and we’re open to helping out where we can.

That same principle also underpins Labour’s approach to trade.

Labour is proudly a free trade party. As a small country distant from most of the rest of the world, it is essential we do what we can to showcase our goods and services in the global marketplace.

That’s why we have long supported bringing down tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade across all sectors, including agriculture.

That’s why the world trusted another former leader of my party, Mike Moore, with the task of liberalizing global trade as head of the WTO.

And that’s why we were so proud as a party to negotiate China’s first FTA with a western nation.

2.4 Rules base

One of the most attractive aspects of many recent developments in trade is seeing countries of all different types, large and small, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable, all commit to abide by a single set of rules governing their interactions.  

As we’ve expanded this rules-based cooperation, the rules have become more specific and more enforceable.

That’s a good thing. 

That’s what happens when trust between nations grows and matures – we feel comfortable making ever more mutual obligations to each other.

In New Zealand, Labour has consistently supported a deepening of the rules-based system on international cooperation.

Section 3: Regional security

Of course, sometimes those rules are tested, and disagreements over their interpretation arise. We’ve seen this in our region very recently.

Like many of you, we’ve been interested to see the recent rulings from the Permanent Court of Abritration around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

As you’ll know, the Court decided that China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea do not have a valid legal basis, and ruled in favour of The Philippines. China has said it does not accept the decision.

Our position, which we’re proud to share with other parties in New Zealand, is that disputes such as this are best resolved by negotiated peaceful settlements that respect international law, rather than either legal battles or, worse, military incidents.

Of course, issues such as the Spratly Islands cannot be viewed without a broader context, which in this case includes the context of evolving relations between the US and China.

We were very pleased to have the opportunity for some of our senior MPs to meet with US Vice President Biden, when he was in New Zealand last week.

As well as discussing China and other regional matters, we were pleased to discuss New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to the Five Eyes information-sharing network.

We see sharing information with friendly partners as vital in confronting ongoing security challenges, including from barbaric groups like Al Qaida and ISIS.

It is also strongly in New Zealand’s interests that we have deep, friendly military cooperation with the US.

For that reason, I was especially pleased at the Vice President’s announcement that a US naval ship will shortly visit New Zealand.

I want to congratulate everyone, on both sides of the Pacific, who was involved in putting together this visit, which does good on all sides.

Some in the media here have tried to cast this announcement in terms of winners and losers.

I think that’s entirely the wrong way to look at it.

International cooperation, including military cooperation, is very often about finding ways to enhance everybody’s position, not about a zero-sum game of “something for you means something less for me.”

Of course, co-operation with our traditional allies isn’t the only tool we can use to defeat violent radicalism.

We also need to recognise that whenever people feel excluded, and alienated and marginalised, extremism festers. We must remember that here in New Zealand we have a Muslim community that is a vital part of the multicultural society we all love. 

We must always do more to ensure that every one here in New Zealand feels included, feels part of our great country.

That’s how we fight extremism, by opening our hearts. By expanding opportunity, by being respectful, by never stopping to fight for an inclusive, open New Zealand.

Section 4: Trade developments

That theme, of understanding those who feel themselves excluded by the global system, is something we need to take very seriously. It encompasses both security challenges and trade challenges.

4.1 Brexit

We’ve seen that theme of exclusion emerge as a core driver behind the Brexit vote.

Shortly after the vote, Lord Ashcroft released his private polling about Brexit. It showed one of the strongest predictors of a person voting to leave the EU was a belief that life was better 30 years ago than it is today.

In other words, it is people who think the 21st century is leaving them behind who drove the UK’s exit from the EU.

I’ll return to that theme later in this speech, but I do want to make two quick comments about Brexit.

First, of course there will be some fallout for our exporters, with our meat exporters being potentially the most vulnerable. We’ll have to wait and see what shape the post-Brexit UK / EU relationship takes before we can assess its impact on New Zealand and our best response.

Second, and more importantly, I don’t see Brexit affecting the strength of our relationships with either the UK or the various remaining members of the EU, either individually or collectively.

Europe and New Zealand share many common, progressive values, and share a common interest in ensuring that New Zealand’s products and services are connected with Europe’s discerning and cosmopolitan consumers.

And the links between New Zealand and the UK remain as deep and as broad as ever.  

I’m confident both sets of relationships will thrive and prosper in the years ahead, regardless of Brexit’s eventual form.

4.2 TPPA

There have, of course, been other large-scale trade developments in recent months, including the TPPA that affects New Zealand very directly.

Labour’s position on the TPP is well known. Despite our longstanding support of free trade, there have to be some bottom lines when international obligations threaten parts of our sovereignty, undercutting our ability to chart our own course in the world.

In the case of the TPPA, we cannot support the erosion of sovereignty this agreement would entail.

New Zealanders must have the right to elect a government that will give them the same protections from global housing speculators that Australians enjoy today. But the TPP would prevent that.

Along with the very weak deal New Zealand negotiated on dairy, that is why we cannot support TPP in its current form.

Of course our position may become moot, because if the US doesn’t ratify the deal, it dies.

Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for President oppose TPP, and it’s getting too late for President Obama to try to pass it before he leaves office. Congress already defeated him once on trade this year, and something big needs to change before he’ll risk being defeated again.

If TPP doesn’t progress this year, Labour would welcome the chance to be part of resumed negotiations leading to an agreement that does away with more tariffs, without curtailing the ability of countries to make laws in their own interests.

Section 5: A historic moment

I want to turn now to a wider issue that I believes sits above much of the challenges we face today.

My observation is that we are living in a time of immense global, political and economic insecurity.

People are hungry for a sense of physical and economic security. A sense of community. Of belonging.

But they do not feel these are being provided by the current arrangements.

This insecurity exposes the limits of the dominant political projects of our time.

A 40 year project to subvert more and more of the collective decision making about how, and in whose interests, our society functions to the logic of the market place.

To weaken the role and powers of the state and reduce the size and scope of government.

From the rise of the New Right in the late 70’s and early 80s, to the Washington Consensus of the 1990s, through to the austerity movements in the wake of the global financial crisis, there has been a consistent political project on the part of some to reshape the role and size of the state in our modern developed economy.

We have been told by the adherents of this project that the path to prosperity was to cut taxes, cut regulations, give more money than ever to the very rich, and then wait for the wealth to trickle down.

For years, we have been told that a smaller state is the inevitable, correct and natural response to globalisation.

That one set of changes flows naturally and unavoidably from the other.

There are some who say that the nation state’s traditional role of ensuring security and prosperity, and a sense of community and belonging for its people, has been taken over by the global market place. And that marketplace is where people should look for answers.  

This is just a rhetorical sleight of hand, designed  to drape a deliberate set of political choices in a cloak of inevitability.

But it isn’t inevitable.

It’s a choice.

These major political changes are a separate process to the technological and economic changes brought on by globalisation.

And in today’s increasingly insecure world, we are entitled to ask ourselves if the choices were the right ones.

Because look at what they have led to.

A greater sense of financial and economic insecurity for more and more people.

A younger generation burdened with debt, facing the prospects of never owning their own home, entering a workforce that is increasingly precarious and casualised, and living on a planet at risk from climate change.

A global economy where the super-rich increasingly operate under their own set of rules, as was shown clearly in the Panama papers, with ever growing levels of inequality, and a loss of social mobility.

A system which, according to World Bank figures, has delivered income growth to the world’s 1% more than five times higher than to the meagre income growth for the poorer citizens of developed countries.

A system where distrust and apathy towards public institutions is growing higher every year.

Those outcomes are simply not sustainable.

An economy and a system where more people than ever feel shut out, feel insecure, feel cut off and alone and feel the real levers of their democracy are out of their grasp, is not sustainable.

The project of a smaller, weaker state for its own sake has failed.

Instead, we need a peaceful global order marked by more active states, who take seriously the responsibility to deliver security to their citizens and an active civil society.

And perhaps even more crucially, the state actually has a vital role to play in ensuring that democratic institutions are protected and are responsive to the needs of their citizens and that the deck does not become stacked in favour of those who are already powerful and privileged.

Nation states have the greatest power to come together to tackle the largest and most intractable challenges, whether it’s promoting peace or limiting carbon emissions.

We need to build a truly democratic society, where every citizen is equal, every voice counts, not just those with the most money or the most power.

We need a new progressive approach that builds nations, that builds a fairer, more prosperous global economy.

For me, the goal of any responsible government must be that each of its citizens has the security to live a good, fulfilling life and the opportunity to live up to their potential.

That is how I believe we must respond to this historical moment of growing insecurity.

As Michael Oakeshot has said: Citizenship is a spiritual experience, not a legal relationship.

That, I believe, is the way forward for New Zealand, and that is the leadership we need now.

Section 6: Conclusion

You know, I saw a cartoon recently showing a pub quiz in 2025. The quizmaster starts a question “in what year did…” and three people yell out “2016!”

Reacting to world news this year certainly feels, to quote Jeremy Coney, like bowling in the highlights.

Only they don’t all feel like highlights in 2016; plenty feel like lowlights.

The individual challenges the international community faces in 2016 are substantial. For some of them, the contours of the issue won’t become clear until after the US votes in November.

But sitting above all those individual issues is a confronting reality. Many millions of people around the world don’t believe the global system is delivering for them.

They’ve tried to protest, but nobody listened.

Now they’re starting to vote with their feet.

Understanding that feeling of exclusion is absolutely critical. Not mollifying it or patronising it; but understanding it and acting on it.

The nature of the global system needs to change so that:

  • it makes good on its promise of a more secure future for everyone, not just for some;
  • so it makes good on its promise of enhanced opportunity for all, not just for some;
  • and so it finally makes good on its promise of enriching people’s identities, rather than denying them.

That is the core international challenge of our age, and will sit at the core of the next Labour government’s foreign policy.

Thank you.