WikiLeaks cable: Labour cautiously confident on 2005 election chances

15 November, 2004
NZ Labour Party cautiously confident on 2005 election chances

SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND LABOUR PARTY CAUTIOUSLY CONFIDENT ON
2005 ELECTION CHANCES

REF: WELLINGTON 889

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR KATHERINE B. HADDA,
FOR REASONS 1.4(B,D)

Summary
-------

1. (C) Summary: New Zealand's governing Labour Party held
its annual conference, November 12 ) 14 in Auckland.
Foreign affairs and trade featured prominently, and Clark
noted that priorities over a Third term would include the
following: new trade and economic links, especially FTAs or
arrangements with ASEAN and India; a focus on sustainable
development, within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol; and
continued "peace and security work," with an emphasis on the
Pacific. Labour left no doubts on its commitment to NZ's
anti-nuclear legislation, while Senior Labour leaders
reconfirmed the party's multi-lateralist and consensus-based
foreign policy approach. The conference's headline
initiative, which was leaked to the press a week earlier, was
the creation of an all-party select committee to do a
stocktake of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.


Overall, Helen Clark's Labour Party believes it is firmly in
control of New Zealand and, barring economic downturn or
scandal, is well-positioned for the 2005 election. End
summary.

2. (U) New Zealand's governing Labour Party held its annual
conference, November 12 ) 14 in Auckland. Clark's keynote
address encouraged an air of celebration, claiming credit for
New Zealand's economic growth, lower unemployment, rising
education standards, better access to health care, and
falling crime rates. Not surprisingly, these mirror exactly
the five issue areas the Opposition National Party has chosen
to attack. But in comparison with an overwhelmingly
confident 2003 Conference, Labour tempered its highlight of
achievements over the past year and increasingly positive
poll ratings with a warning by Prime Minister Helen Clark
that there is "no room for complacency." Clark pointedly
referenced the disarray in the Labour Party Caucus of the
1980s, noting that New Zealanders are "looking for stability,
predictability, and a commitment to the basics."

Labour Strongly Reaffirms Anti-Nuclear Stance
---------------------------------------------

3. (C) In contrast to the Conference of 2003, which focused
primarily on domestic governance issues, foreign affairs and
trade were central issues at this year's gathering. Clark
noted that priorities over a Third term would include the
following: new trade and economic links, especially FTAs or
arrangements with ASEAN and India; a focus on sustainable
development, within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol; and
continued "peace and security work," with an emphasis on the
Pacific. Clark also left no room for doubt of her
anti-nuclear credentials, stating "let's be clear; under a
Labour-led government, there will be no revisiting of our
nuclear free status. It won't be gone by lunchtime or any
other time." All Conference attendees received anti-nuclear
bumper stickers in their packs, and in discussions with
delegates, Poloff was repeatedly told that the issue was
closely related to Kiwi national identity and the U.S. should
cease pressure on NZ to affect a change.

4. (C) Senior Labour leaders including Foreign Minister Phil
Goff and Trade Minister Jim Sutton reconfirmed the party's
multi-lateralist and consensus-based foreign policy. An
experimental session that featured a policy paper on New
Zealand's foreign policy direction included a mention of the
importance NZ's anti-nuclear policies have played in the
past. (Note: A copy of the policy paper has been faxed to
EAP/ANP.)

1 New Initiative ) Lots of Hints For 3rd Term
--------------------------------------------

5. (U) The conference's headline initiative, which was leaked
to the press a week earlier, was the creation of an all-party
select committee, chaired by United Future leader Peter
Dunne, to do a stocktake of New Zealand's constitutional
arrangements. (NB: NZ's constitution is currently comprised
of certain key pieces of legislation, and some include the
Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, under which Maori agreed to
British rule in exchange for British citizenship and other
rights.) Opposition parties decried the proposal. The
National Party called it a pre-election distraction from the
issues of race relations, raised by National's leader Don
Brash in January, to great public support. NZ First called
the idea a "road to nowhere."
6. (U) In keeping with its mantra of stability and caution,
no other new initiatives were advanced by Labour over the
weekend, and Clark's speech focused on multi-year programs
announced over the past 12 months. These include increasing
levels of government support for working families (fully
funded by 2007), an additional week of paid leave for workers
(by 2007), and a broadening of the superannuation program for
government employees.

7. (U) Hints for future programs reflected Labour's
pre-election push to broaden their appeal to average,
working-class voters. They hinted at policies such as
building the asset base and savings capacity of average
Kiwis, providing support for families with children in
tertiary education, and crafting a non-compulsory
superannuation program for private sector workers.

"Many A Slip Twixt the Cup And The Lip"
---------------------------------------

8. (C) Reinforcing Clark's cautions on complacency, her
keynote suffered an unscripted intervention by protesters
calling for the release of imprisoned asylum-seeker Ahmed
Zaoui. The protest highlights Labour's vulnerability on
certain key issues, including human rights and Maori affairs.
With a vote coming up this week on controversial
legislation, which would vest ownership of the foreshore and
seabed with the GoNZ, Party members repeated thanks to the
Maori Caucus for its support was duly noted by Maori
delegates and MPs alike.

Comment
-------

9. (C) Comment: Helen Clark's Labour Party believes it is
firmly in control of New Zealand. Barring economic downturn
or scandal, the Party is well-positioned for the 2005
election. But Labour knows it must remain squarely
positioned over NZ's political center, or risk a more
significant challenge from National. Clark's keynote speech
therefore emphasized Labour's delivery of stability and
economic prosperity, as well as directly addressing issues
the Opposition had staked out as areas of weakness. With the
opposition unable to gain traction from Labour's blunders,
Labour has again proved its strength as a strongly unified
party, a credit to Clark's leadership, especially as recent
allegations surrounding Maori MP John Tamihere (Reftel)
threatened to derail Labour's Conference. NZ's anti-nuclear
legislation featured more prominently than in previous years,
largely a reflection of National's release of a discussion
paper on the issue. While the message from Labour was clear
) we will not change- the Party's need to mention this may
indicated that discussion of the issue is gaining traction.
End comment.

7. (U) The text of Helen Clark's speech and the Labour Party
Draft Working Paper on Foreign Policy can be found at Embassy
Wellington's Classified Website.
Swindells

- Herald on Sunday

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