Big foreign policy issues to confront Labour

One issue for me will be seeing how far the Government is willing to bend to the Chinese authorities when it comes to the prickly issue of human rights and the Chinese Government. As an Amnesty International member with the local Christchurch chapter, we have a Prisoner of Conscience who we have been working to get out of a Chinese prison. Her crime was to support womens rights and support peaceful human rights activism in Hong Kong. What will Ms Ardern get Mr Peters to do when the next delegation of Chinese Government officials touches down. Are they going to allow Green Party M.P.’s to protest near the officials, or will the nervous security detail be allowed to protest?

New Minister of Defence, Ron Mark is well known for his criticism of expensive Defence Force purchases, and will be wanting to cast an eye over the finer detail of future expenditure, before taking it to Cabinet for approval. Unlike the Treasurer Grant Robertson, Mr Mark will be aware that the $15-20 billion expenditure plan for the next 15-20 years is actually not loaded with significant new expenditure, with much of it allocated to upgrading existing capacities rather than bringing in new capacities.

As someone with his own thoughts on Defence issues, I will be interested to see what happens. A major concern for me is how or whether the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan will be subject to the appropriate scrutiny. Or will, as a result of being in coalition and having to do deals with parties they do not see eye to eye with, the Greens let the issue slide.

Perhaps the biggest issues at the moment are what Labour will do about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. New Zealand First and the Greens want to kill it outright. New Zealand First tried twice to pass legislation through Parliament to stop it. Labour, however, has to present a moderate face and has a tricky choice to make. Does it appease its supporter base and that of its Government coalition partners and kill the deal, at the risk of jeopardizing a separate deal with Japan at the same time, or does it allow some sort of watered down version of a very unpopular deal to go through?

The T.P.P.A. is seen by the right as some sort of trade holy grail. But there is something inherently suspicious about such a huge deal. 6,000 pages of details – is anyone actually ever going to be fully conversant in it and does it really take that much paper to outline the terms of something that is supposed to reduce trade barriers? At least I thought that is what “free trade agreement” is supposed to do.

Perhaps if there is anywhere New Zealand can help on the world stage it is showing support for the Iran deal, North Korean sanctions and United Nations reform.The former two are tied together loosely as the Iran deal is a sign that “rogue nations” can be brought to heel. And if the Trump Administration is blocked from walking away from the Iran deal, it will show North Korea that the “cowboy” administration is being stood up to by its own people. If Iran stays the path, it will show that negotiated solutions still have their use.

It looks like the Labour Government and its allies are going to hit the ground running. Ms Ardern might be an internationalist, but she is one of the Helen Clark mould and has a sense of pragmatism that will soon find itself tested.

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