Friday, July 23, 2004

Brash and foreign policy

Former Human Rights Commissioner Chris Lawrence has an article in the Herald in which he draws attention to Don Brash's disturbing views on foreign policy. Since 1945, New Zealand has been a consistent supporter and advocate of multilateral institutions and international law. An important part of this position has been support for international legal instruments governing human rights.

Brash has already indicated that he believes his poll-driven domestic political concerns trump this long-term policy when he said that he would be willing to opt out of UN conventions in order to make prisoners do hard labour. Now, he has pretty much repudiated the entire vision:

Mana magazine has featured an interview with Dr Brash. One subject was, unsurprisingly, the proposed foreshore and seabed legislation. The interviewer noted it had been suggested by some that the Government's proposal breached United Nations human right conventions.

"Does that concern you?" Dr Brash was asked.

"No, it doesn't," he replied. "I have a very low regard for some of the United Nations conventions in this area. I think they are driven by people with a particular political agenda, frequently from countries which have pretty lousy laws and provisions in their own countries for indigenous peoples."

Brash is, I suspect, simply mouthing off. His comments on forced labour showed total ignorance of our international legal obligations, and those above indicate a certain amount of confusion about history (UN human rights conventions have generally been driven by rich, western nations with decent human rights records). Despite this, the media should be following this up. Here we have the leader of a major political party threatening to overturn sixty years of foreign policy and a number of major international commitments. He should be being asked to explain and justify that position. In particular, he should be asked which UN conventions he wishes to withdraw from, and why, and how this will affect our mana and credibility on the international stage. And if he clams up, then he should be called on it. As a small nation which makes its way through trade, foreign policy is vitally important; if Brash doesn't understand this, or regards it as a political football to be manipulated for short-term political gain, then the public needs to know.