Peters castigates anti brigade

By Ruth Berry

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has lashed out at what he describes as an irrational sport in New Zealand involving scoring cheap points by bashing America and Australia.

Mr Peters also called on Fiji's interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to resign his military post and contest proper elections, saying if he won the job legitimately he would be recognised by the international community.

Mr Peters said, despite recent crises in the Pacific, that "we should approach this year with guarded optimism".

"Not because we will solve all the Pacific problems - we won't - but because we will play a constructive part in the region, strengthening key relationships and bolstering our own national interests."

Mr Peters made the comments at the Orewa Rotary Club in a speaking slot that former National Party leader Don Brash controversially used over the previous three years.

The Foreign Minister said New Zealand's work in the Pacific was also relevant "outside the immediate sphere in which we operate" because big international partners "watch and value what we do".

"Our partnerships and collaborative efforts are critical - particularly those with Australia and the United States.

"Yet there seems to be an irrational and growing sense of sport among some quarters in New Zealand where it is considered a perverse badge of honour to take cheap shots at the Australians and Americans."

Such groups were quick to criticise what they disagreed with and slow to acknowledge the efforts both nations put into the Pacific, he said.

"Let me make this as clear as possible: We need the United States, as well as Australia, to be intimately engaged in the Pacific if we are to be successful in our own endeavours. We also believe the EU has a positive role to play."

These countries shared many mutually-shared objectives with New Zealand "so, while some in New Zealand are keen to see us jettison these relationships, these people need to grow up, shed their jingoistic baggage about the US and Australia and start to address the serious reality in which we operate, rather than their fanciful fabrications".

"Let's confront a simple question. How do you get a sound business relationship with someone or some nation who does not know you, or worse, does not like you?

"The media at times have regrettably tried to reduce these attitudes to a deep-seated form of anti-Americanism and anti-Australian sentiments."

The Herald tried to clarify with Mr Peters who he was directing his criticisms at. His spokesman replied that Mr Peters said "he doesn't need to name them because they know who they are".

Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday that she had only glanced at the speech before it was delivered so she wouldn't comment on anything Mr Peters was quoted as saying.

But there had always been a healthy rivalry with Australia, she said.

"We are each other's best mates but keenest rivals as well and I don't think that necessarily adds up to an anti-Aussie sentiment.

"It just means that we are fiercely competitive and we are the smaller country and they're the bigger one so there'll always be a bit of chippiness about that.

"With respect to the US, fundamentally there's a very, very good relationship," she said.

"I don't think fundamentally there's a big issue."

But Greens foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke said Mr Peters was out of touch with New Zealanders' sentiments on the United States.

"It is not a cheap shot or anti-Americanism to criticise George Bush's war in Iraq.

"But it is a cheap shot for Mr Peters to accuse those who disagree with Mr Bush of wanting to jettison relations with the United States."

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