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Protester interrupts Winston Peters speech on benefits of Aukus Pillar 2 security partnership

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A major speech by Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been interrupted by a lone protester.

Peters told diplomats and foreign policy experts during the speech in Wellington tonight that joining the Aukus Pillar 2 technology has benefits that New Zealand should consider exploring.

Peters’ lecture to the NZ Institute of International Affairs at Parliament had been billed as a statement on where the Government stands on Aukus Pillar 2, the second leg of the Aukus nuclear-powered submarine pact between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

Peters, in his speech, excoriated the former Labour Government for essentially u-turning on Aukus, flipping its lukewarm exploration of the deal into lukewarm opposition.

Opposition to Aukus reared its head during the speech in the form of a lone protester who held up a sign against the security partnership.

”I will ask one more time will you please sit down and show some respect for the rest of this audience,” Peters told the woman silently protesting.

Peters said that everyone in the audience had different views.

”Why is your one the special one while we also have to put up with this? Would you do me a favour and can you move from the room please?”

The protester shook her head before security escorted her out.

”As Elvis sang ‘if you’re looking for trouble you came to the right place’,” Peters said.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters making his speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Foreign Minister Winston Peters making his speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

During his speech Peters said that, in future, the Government would “carefully weigh up the economic and security benefits and costs of any decision about whether participating in Pillar 2 is in the national interest”, but that the Government was “a long way from this point of being able to make such a decision.”.

Pillar 2 involves the sharing and development of advanced, non-nuclear technologies, and could involve NZ, Japan, Canada, and South Korea, should the other Aukus partners extend an invite.

The lecture mostly restated the Government’s current position, which is that NZ must first be invited to join the deal in the first place, and that in the interim, it is exploring what Aukus Pillar 2 is and weighing up its options.

But in sentiment, the lecture will likely fuel the argument that the Government is more keen than not on joining.

Peters laid out several positive reasons for exploring the deal, and lashed Labour for its softening support.

Peters noted that Labour had begun discussions about Pillar 2 back in September 2021, shortly after the shock announcement of the main part of the Aukus deal.

“Let’s be clear, Pillar 2 discussions were initiated by Labour, before the current Coalition Government was voted into office. That is why we state we are continuing a process already begun by our predecessor Labour Government,” Peters said.

“The first advice from officials to Ministers about the potential for NZ to associate with Aukus began in October 2021.

“In 2023, after almost two years of careful consideration, Labour’s Prime Minister, in concert with his Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, sanctioned officials to begin discussions with Aukus partners about Pillar 2′s scope and architecture. Exploratory, information-gathering discussions in Canberra, London, and Washington did not spontaneously occur.

“Officials were mandated to conduct them by the Labour Government. That choice was consistent with former Prime Minister Hipkins’ statement last year that: ‘Our region is now a strategic theatre’,” he said.

A major speech by Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been interrupted by a lone protester. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A major speech by Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been interrupted by a lone protester. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Peters spend considerable time talking about the benefits of Aukus Pillar 2, including whether not joining could leave NZ’s Defence Force out of step with that of our formal ally, Australia.

“For instance, if Australia adopts new advanced technologies what does that mean for NZ’s ability to communicate with our ally’s capabilities?,” Peters warned.

“It would be irresponsible for us not to consider whether the $3.5 billion of taxpayer money spent, which former Minister of Defence Ron Mark and we secured in 2018, to purchase four P-8A Poseidon aircraft and replace our antiquated Hercules fleet with five new Hercules aircraft, will still be fit for purpose under Pillar 2′s technology advances,” Peters said.

He added that Pillar 2 could have “significant benefits” for the economy, particularly the military and space sectors.

Peters attacked critics of Pillar 2, arguing they were stuck fighting the battles of the past. He argued they projected an anti-Americanism onto NZ’s independent foreign policy.

“There is… we believe an ideological element underpinning the critics outright rejection of Pillar 2 and their claim that we are abandoning an independent foreign policy.

“Their conception of our independent foreign policy has always carried a strand of anti-Americanism, so being independent means for them saying ‘no’ to the US,” Peters said.

He argued independence means freedom to agree with like-minded partners – not just the freedom to disagree.

“Let’s also be clear about which governments comprise Pillar 2: Three of our closest friends on the international stage. Indeed, Pillar 1 partners comprise a US Government led by Democrat Joe Biden, a Labour-led Australian Government, and a Conservative Government in the UK, supported by the Labour opposition.

“These are the countries that opponents of Pillar 2 are scaremongering about,” Peters said, not mentioning the fact that the Biden administration might not last beyond January of next year.

Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.

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