Nuclear-free NZ anniversary celebrated

By Kate Shuttleworth

File photo / Bay of Plenty Times
File photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Veteran peace activists and MPs from across the spectrum met at Parliament yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of New Zealand becoming a nuclear-free country.

The Labour Government passed legislation on June 8, 1987 prohibiting nuclear ships entering New Zealand waters.

Dame Laurie Salas, in her 90s, remembers the campaign to make New Zealand nuclear-free and the announcement their campaign had been successful.

"When the Nuclear-free Act was passed, I remember sitting under the pohutukawa tree in parliament grounds listening to the debate in parliament on Radio New Zealand," she said.

In parliament Dame Salas attended an event hosted by Labour MP and chair of the New Zealand parliamentarians for nuclear non-proliferation Maryann Street and National MP Dr Paul Hutchison.

Those gathered in the banquet hall in parliament listed to written messages from Helen Clark and Jim Bolger and video footage from Prime Minister David Lange's famous delivery at the Oxford union debate in 1985.

The famous line, "I can smell the uranium on your breathe as you lean forward," brought back memories for the veteran peace activists.

Mr Lange famously argued there was no moral case for nuclear weapons and the debunked the idea that nuclear weapons were a necessary evil.

Maryann Street said the decision was controversial at the time, but had become part of New Zealand's national identity.

Photos and memorabilia from the nuclear-free campaign were shared.

A highlight for Reverend Doctor George Armstrong was organising the peace squadron, a flotilla of boats that protested the arrival of US nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships.

"From wo to go it was all excitement," he said.

He suggested blocking their entry with a peace squadron of boats and he remembered at the 25th anniversary celebration the first protest that blocked US nuclear warship Truxton when it arrived in Wellington.

It was met by a small peace squadron, as well as a union ban on the waterfront which prevented it from berthing.

Another US nuclear cruiser called Long Beach arrived at Auckland a year later and a flotilla of 150 small yachts, dinghies, canoes, and kayaks stopped it entering the harbour.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and other groups joined the Peace Squadrons in seeking a court injunction to block future visits by nuclear warships. Joining the controversy, the leader of the Labour opposition fervently committed his party to the struggle for a nuclear-free Pacific.

In 1979 a US nuclear submarine Haddo rammed its way into Auckland's harbor, sinking a number of small protest craft.

One demonstrator boarded the nuclear submarine and according to a news account, "like Zorba the Greek he began a dance, half of defiance, half of joy on the very nose of the incoming sub."

'The classical case was when Steven Sherry jumped onto the submarine and one of the newspapers had a headline - 'Hot Welcome for Yellow Submarine," said Dr Armstrong.

Maryann Street said the campaign was difficult, now it is a matter of national identity,

"It has morphed into something I don't think any Government would tinker with," she said.

- APNZ

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