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Aukus antics distract from the real issue

The defamation action that’s reportedly about to be launched against Foreign Minister Winston Peters by Bob Carr, who held the same position in Australia from March 2012 to September 2013, is perhaps distracting from more serious consideration about whether there’s a case for New Zealand to become involved in Aukus.

For those who came in late, Aukus – as the acronym sort of suggests – is a pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The “trilateral security partnership” is focused on military capability in the Indo-Pacific – so, in part, our neck of the woods – and kitting out Oz with nuclear-powered submarines in particular. It’s widely seen as largely being a way of containing China’s encroachment in the region as it increasingly asserts itself as an emerging superpower [China itself certainly seems to regard it as such, criticising the arrangement as exhibiting a “cold-war mentality” that risks “severely damaging regional peace”].

Because of NZ’s nuclear-free status, we haven’t been asked to join the pact, which was announced in September 2021, although in March last year, then-defence minister Andrew Little confirmed NZ had been offered the opportunity to discuss joining Aukus for the non-submarine co-operation areas.

At the time, Little said NZ was “willing to explore” the proposal, which is known as Pillar 2, and involves the sharing and development of advanced, non-nuclear technologies

Last month, Peters and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a joint statement saying they both “see powerful reasons for New Zealand engaging” on Aukus – although with the proviso, “when both sides deem it appropriate” [we still haven’t been asked to join].

The solids hit the ventilation system when Peters was asked during an RNZ interview about Carr’s colourfully expressed opinion that NZ shouldn’t join Pillar 2, which he dubbed “fragrant, methane-wrapped bullshit” that’s “been cobbled together to make it look like there’s more to Aukus than subs – there isn’t”.

For whatever reason, Peters didn’t take kindly to this unsolicited advice and preceded to make comments about Carr’s relationship with China that Carr’s lawyers have subsequently labelled “indefensibly defamatory”.

Since then, there’s been some mild amusement in hearing various critics kvetching about Peters having “embarrassed the country” [because he took a poke at an ex-Oz politician? Does that mean the “Scottie from marketing” jibes are now off the table?] and the possibility of taxpayers having to cover his legal costs [much like we did Trevor Mallard’s after he falsely accused someone of rape?].

Most amusing, however, was learning that Carr may well have never heard about Peters’ comments if former PM Helen Clark hadn’t told on him.

Admitting to alerting Carr to Newstalk ZB, Clark said, “When I heard the comments on Morning Report, I was really shocked, and I would expect people to alert me if something like that was said about me…” – conjuring the image of the ex-PM taking regular breaks from preventing Taylor Swift concerts at Eden Park to name search herself on the internet…

Anyway, none of this addresses whether we want a bar of Aukus or not.

For a view on that, readers are recommended to look up an opinion piece on interest.co.nz on the topic.

Written by the always interesting Chris Trotter – the founding editor of the late, lamented New Zealand Political Review – it places the pact within the long arc of history and concludes that “Like it or not, the Kiwis are either going into “Pillar 2” – or they are going to China”.

Food for thought.

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