Nuclear submarine pact raises defence questions for NZ as Aussies get closer to the US and extend their global reach

Defence strategists have begun considering how AUKUS, the Australia-US-UK nuclear submarine project, will ultimately impact on New Zealand.  In broad terms, it effectively welds Canberra tightly to the US in strategic and political affairs.

But there are  questions whether the deal might run foul of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Wellington and Canberra are linked by closer defence relations. A joint statement issued in 2018 says:

As close neighbours and allies, we have a mutual commitment to support each other’s security, closely coordinate our efforts in the South Pacific, and maintain a shared focus on the security and stability of our broader region. The formal expression of our alliance and security partnership is found in the 1944 Canberra Pact, ANZUS Treaty and through Australia – New Zealand Closer Defence Relations instigated in 1991. Continue reading “Nuclear submarine pact raises defence questions for NZ as Aussies get closer to the US and extend their global reach”

Our trade minister is hard at work in the quest for more FTAs – but several factors are frustrating his efforts

The government’s trade policy is running into quicksand. Reports from London and European capitals indicate there is little chance of immediate progress with free trade agreement negotiations with the UK or the European Union.

Don’t blame trade minister Damien O’Connor, a genial fellow who has generated much enthusiastic support from embassies around the world for his willingness to travel and engage with his counterparts.  Likewise, with MFAT trade supremo Vangelis Vitalis, highly regarded around the world for his trade craft.

On the other hand, there is a growing mood of desperation in the business world and other sectors at the reluctance of ministers, from the PM downwards, to travel offshore.  The PM delivered her annual address to the UN General Assembly by video.

Observers say whatever message she conveyed was simply lost in the electronic blizzard. Nothing replaces a personal appearance.

Prospects are firming for the first overseas trip by the minister of foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, principally to Doha where she will lead a troupe of singers and dancers to perform at the New Zealand pavilion of the delayed world trade expo. All have been guaranteed MIQ spots on return home as they are “representing New Zealand”.

Put the lack of movement on the trade-policy front down to several factors.

First, the state of politics in both the UK and the EU. Capitals have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and economies are only now beginning to recover.

There is alarm in the EU at the return of inflation. Prices, led by gas and electricity, are surging.  While France is likely to support an FTA with NZ, other support can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

London is looking to import turkeys from Poland and France for the Christmas trade because UK farmers had to curb production because of labour shortages. The Johnson government has been forced to reverse its policy of limiting 5,500 emergency work visas for the poultry industry to the turkey sector.

Visas will be available to any poultry workers after poultry producers, which previously relied on labour from eastern Europe, warned of threats to Christmas and potential overcrowding on chicken farms because of a lack of workers.

Britain is facing a series of crises ahead of Christmas. A shortage of heavy-vehicle drivers has led to the army delivering petrol.

Gas is short because of low stockpiles and a summer of lighter than forecast winds reduced wind-generated power supplies. Across the EU energy supplies are reaching crisis point as Russia appears reluctant to provide more than contracted gas supplies.

Second, the UK and EU have no appetite for new trade pacts, fearing a political backlash from electorates wearied by Covid.  As we have already noted, the UK-NZ FTA was driven in London by Liz Truss, now the UK foreign secretary.  Now there is a different mood in the British capital where the Johnson government has been badly bruised by farmer reaction, especially in traditional Conservative-voting electorates, to the UK-Australian FTA.

In recent decades, NZ prime ministers have always declared, amidst crises and dramas, that “this is not a good time to be in government”. Trade minister O’Connor may well say the same.

Free trade agreements: why NZ might look again at trying to join the USMCA

Britain, like New Zealand, is having a hard time even focusing the US Government on a free trade agreement. Rather, NZ is going the way of encouraging President Joe Biden’s administration to reconsider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership.

We believe a NZ-US free trade agreement was barely mentioned during trade minister Damien O’Conner’s Washington DC meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and others.

Issues such as the USA’s position on the World Trade Organisation were higher on his agenda.

Ahead of the presidential elections last year, Biden made clear his lack of enthusiasm for free trade, mainly at the behest of American trade unions which provided massive financial and “get out the vote” support. Only 6.1% of the US private work force is unionised. Continue reading “Free trade agreements: why NZ might look again at trying to join the USMCA”

Lower the drawbridge – the PM is planning to bust out of the NZ bubble to talk trade (among other things) in Europe

PM Jacinda Ardern is planning a major visit to Europe next month. Details have yet to be announced but she is expected to visit Paris, Brussels and possibly Berlin.

She is heading NZ’s campaign to secure a free trade agreement with the European Union. First visit is likely to be Paris where she will have a warm welcome from President Emmanuel Macron. This couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

The French are feeling bruised over the Australia-UK-US nuclear submarine agreement and the cancellation of the $80 billion contract to build French nuclear submarines converted to diesel-electric power in Adelaide. France has already signalled it would not impede a NZ-EU trade pact.

European countries generally are concerned at the new nuclear submarine pact.  EU capitals had no prior warning despite President Joe Biden’s expressed desires to repair relations bruised under Donald Trump.  It was also angered by Biden’s failure to alert Europe of his withdrawal from Afghanistan despite the presence of European forces in that country. Continue reading “Lower the drawbridge – the PM is planning to bust out of the NZ bubble to talk trade (among other things) in Europe”

The case for Air NZ focusing more on its freight operations

New Zealand’s vulnerability in terms of air and shipping services has been among the ominous consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Air NZ has parked its fleet of eight Boeing 777-200 and seven Boeing 777-300 and reckons they will never fly them again. All its international services are based on its Boeing 787-9 with the -10 on order. These are providing limited passenger and freight services.

Pure freighter services are provided by Qantas with its cargo Boeing 767s while other carriers offer ad hoc Boeing 747-400 cargo flights.

Shipping is even more compromised with limited and increasingly expensive services to North America and Asia.

In the US the situation is more dire because of the notoriously inefficient and slow-moving container ports on the US west coast.  The east coast is much better but the shipping times via the Panama raise costs for shippers. Continue reading “The case for Air NZ focusing more on its freight operations”

Graham Adams: Going where the media won’t

Behind the coverage of David Seymour’s rise in the polls and Maori Language Week lurk inconvenient truths. Graham Adams argues journalists need to be more even-handed to maintain their credibility.

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IN THE HULLABALOO that followed Curia’s poll results last week, the media focused mainly on the startling fact that National’s support had collapsed to 21.3 per cent — with all its dire implications for Judith Collins continuing as the party’s leader.

Predictably, the dismal figures spawned a flurry of articles predicting a palace coup — with the rider that the mutiny could not be immediate because Level 4 lockdown prevented the party’s Auckland MPs flying to Wellington en masse to disembowel their leader in person. A coup conducted over Zoom would have been unseemly and presumably unsatisfying to those consumed with blood lust.

The fact that Act reached its highest number in any poll — at 14.9 per cent — was also widely covered, partly because it was seen as a fresh humiliation for Collins, with the party described as “hot on National’s heels”.

While the media was keen to dissect the causes for Collins’ poor showing, however, it didn’t seem nearly as interested in analysing possible reasons for David Seymour’s ascension — including the role played by his tweet revealing the confidential code prioritising access to vaccinations for Māori.

Seymour posted the tweet at 9.49am on September 6. The poll of 1000 respondents was conducted between September 5 and September 9, with the median responses on September 7.

In short, nearly all the polling occurred in the days immediately after Seymour’s message appeared, which also saw his defence of his actions published prominently in the NZ Herald on September 8.

It is clear that despite the widespread condemnation he received in the media — ranging from the Māori Party describing the tweet as a “lowlife move” to the extraordinary response of Newshub’s political editor, Tova O’Brien, calling him a “cockwomble” — his popularity hit new highs. Continue reading “Graham Adams: Going where the media won’t”

Our air defences are down – only some RNZAF aircraft can reach for the sky as Orions are retired

There are sad faces around Whenuapai today as the RNZAF retires the first of its five Lockheed Orions.

The aircraft is flying to Woodbourne for breaking and parting – essentially for spares.

The Orions came into service in 1966 and have become a familiar presence in the south Pacific, saving countless missing fishermen and yacht crews.

The first of four Boeing P-8A Poseidons is due in NZ in 2023 to replace the old Lockheeds.

Our contacts are also lamenting the current state of the air force’s transport. We understand only two of  five Lockheed Hercules are currently airworthy while the service is down to only one Boeing 757 – the other one is in for engineering work and engine installation.

No 40 Squadron hopes there won’t be a sudden demand for air transport, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

Old hands put the current state of decay down to decades of inattention and under-funding by successive governments.

Outdated Views? Andrea Vance On Sean Plunket

Chris Trotter, political columnist, blogger and commentator, writes here about “shock jocks”, “outdated” views, “privilege” and the “Woke” establishment …  

IT’S ONE OF THOSE throwaway lines which, precisely because so little conscious thought was given to it, tells us so much. The author, Andrea Vance, is an experienced political journalist working for Stuff. The subject of Vance’s throwaway line, Sean Plunket, is an equally experienced journalist. It was in her recent story about Plunket’s soon-to-be-launched online media product “The Platform”, that Vance wrote: “Plunket’s dalliances with controversy make it easy to paint him as a two-dimensional character: a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.”

It’s hard to get past those first four words. The picture Vance is painting is of a dilettante: someone who flits from one inconsequential pursuit to another, taking nothing seriously. And, of course, the use of the word “dalliances” only compounds this impression. To “dally” with somebody it to treat them casually, offhandedly – almost as a plaything. Accordingly, a “dalliance” should be seen as the very opposite of a genuine commitment. It smacks of self-indulgence. A cure, perhaps, for boredom?

To dally with controversy, therefore, is to betray a thoroughly feckless character. Controversies are all about passion and commitment. Controversies are taken seriously. Indeed, a controversy is usefully defined as a dispute taken seriously by all sides. And yet, according to Vance, Plunket has only been playing with controversy: trifling with it, as a seducer trifles with the affections of an innocent maid.

In Vance’s eyes, this indifference to matters of genuine and serious concern distinguishes Plunket as a “two-dimensional character”. It reduces him to a cardboard cut-out, a promotional poster, a thing of printer’s ink and pixels – insubstantial. Or, which clearly amounts to the same thing as far as Vance is concerned: “a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.” Dear me! The scorn dripping from those words could fill a large spittoon!

As if the holding of right-wing views somehow renders a person less than three-dimensional. As if conservative thinkers from Aristotle to Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke to Carl Schmidt haven’t contributed enormously to Western political thought. As if Keith Holyoake, Jim Bolger and Bill English aren’t respected by New Zealanders of all political persuasions for their rough-hewn dignity and love of country. To hold right-wing views isn’t a sickness, It doesn’t make you a bad person. It merely denotes a preference for the familiar; a wariness of the new; and a deep-seated fear of sudden and unmandated change.

As for “shock-jocks”: well, that is the sort of broadcasting talent commercial radio producers are constantly searching for. People of energy and enthusiasm, with a way of communicating both qualities to the radio station’s listeners. And if they also have a talent for decoding the zeitgeist on air: for tapping into the audience’s anger and frustration; and giving voice to their hopes and their fears? Why, then they are worth their weight in gold – and usually get it. The more people a “shock-jock” glues to the station’s frequency, the more the advertisers will be prepared to pay. That’s the business.

Perhaps Vance should have a word with the people who pay her salary: perhaps they could explain where all that money comes from.

The most important words, however, Vance saves for last. What really confirms Plunket’s lack of three dimensions are his “outdated views on privilege and race”. It is with these six words that Vance betrays both herself and her newspaper.

Who says Plunket’s views on privilege and race are “outdated”? According to whose measure? After all, his views on privilege and race correspond closely with those of Dr Martin Luther King. Is Vance asserting that Dr King’s view that people should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character, is outdated? Is she suggesting that a poor white man has more in the way of privilege than Oprah Winfrey? Or that the privileges which flow from superior economic power and social status count for less than those attached to race, gender and sexuality?

The answer is Yes. Those who declare such views to be “outdated” are, indeed, making all of the claims listed above. This locates them among a relatively narrow section of the population: highly educated; paid well above the average; more than adequately housed; and enjoying all the “privileges” accruing to those who manage the bodies and shape the minds of their fellow citizens.

Andrea Vance is a member of this truly privileged group, and so, at one time, was Sean Plunket. So, why the sneering condescension? Why the scorn? The answer is to be found in the new priorities of the truly privileged; the people who actually run this society. They have determined that their interests are better served by fostering the division and bitterness that is born of identity politics. Rather than see people promote a view of human-beings that unites them in a common quest for justice and equality, they would rather Blacks assailed Whites, women assailed men, gays assailed straights, and trans assailed TERFS. In short, the “One Percent” have decided that their interests are better protected by corporations, universities and the mainstream news media all promoting the ideology of identity politics.

By setting his face against this new “Woke” establishment, Sean Plunket the conservative poses as large a threat to the status quo as Martyn Bradbury the radical. On the one hand stand those who question the necessity and morality of changes now deemed essential by persons no one elected. On the other, those who insist that such divisive policies will produce results diametrically opposed to their promoters’ intentions. Right and Left, joined in an “outdated” search for the common ground that makes rational politics possible. The place where both sides are willing to acknowledge and agree that, in the words of John F. Kennedy:

“[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 September 2021.

Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership

What do you do when your neighbour goes nuclear?

The Ardern  government will be tackling that question after being taken aback by news the Australians are to buy US nuclear attack submarines and will form a new trilateral security partnership to be called AUKUS.

Our Beehive connections tell us PM Jacinda Ardern was briefed by Australian PM Scott Morrison last night.

We are tempted to say these developments confirm how far NZ has slipped off the map in terms of a regional defence power. Our contacts say the Beehive is still grappling with how come NZ wasn’t consulted about the new security partnership – or even invited.

Canberra will acquire several Virginia Class nuclear attack submarines. A $A90 billion plan to buy French nuclear submarines and convert them to diesel-electric power will be abandoned. Continue reading “Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership”

While Biden’s challenges grow, Christie shows signs of limbering up for a tilt at the Republican nomination

America spent the weekend commemorating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC and at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the fourth terrorist-commandeered aircraft crashed.

President Joe Biden led proceedings along with former presidents George W Bush, Barak Obama and Bill Clinton.  Donald Trump was conspicuous by his absence – intentional on the part of the White House.

The public mood appears pessimistic, reflecting the cost of 9/11, the loss of some 7000 US servicemen and women in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the resurrection of  the Taliban, aligned with a perception that the US has lost both respect and its way in the world.

Trump continues to tease supporters and opponents alike over whether he will run in 2024.  Most analysts and pollsters feel his decision won’t be made until after the mid-term elections in November 2022 – and how Biden and the Democrats rate in the polling.

Biden has had an awful August and early September. Even his own advisers agree the withdrawal from Afghanistan was botched, leaving many behind and unnerving allies around the world.

The South of the US suffered a hurricane which caused billions of dollars of damage from New Orleans to New York and caused several deaths.

California’s wildfires rage unchecked and the state is rapidly running out of electricity thanks to low hydro lake storage in neighbouring states and the state government’s decision to shut down nuclear, coal and gas-fired power stations. Continue reading “While Biden’s challenges grow, Christie shows signs of limbering up for a tilt at the Republican nomination”