a pin in a map of New Zealand on a world map, a magnifying glass over the top
Image: Getty Images

PoliticsSeptember 29, 2023

Election 2023: The foreign affairs, trade and defence policies in two minutes

a pin in a map of New Zealand on a world map, a magnifying glass over the top
Image: Getty Images

New Zealand makes lots of money from foreign trade, and spends lots of money on the defence force. What role do the parties want the country to play overseas? Policy.nz has the full version, but we can tell you the basics in two minutes. 

One of the roles of a government is to represent Aotearoa overseas. This can simply be symbolic, such as Jacinda Ardern attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, or to fulfil trade relationships, like Chris Hipkins spending a week in China in June. 

While New Zealand is a relatively small country, we have foreign partnerships with powerful allies, including the Five Eyes surveillance partnership with Canada, the UK, Australia and the United States. Aotearoa has embassies, consular services or high commissions in more than 50 countries and territories, and foreign trade contributes billions of dollars to our economy each year. 

There’s also the question of our responsibilities to our neighbours through international aid. Much of this is directed through partnerships with non-governmental organisations, like the $1.5m of disaster relief to Turkey and Syria with the Red Cross following the earthquake there. With climate change threatening the livelihood of some of our close neighbours in the Pacific, New Zealand could have a role to play.

The New Zealand government budgeted $5.3 billion for defence in the 2023 budget and the NZDF has 15,000 employees. Defence commitments are part of New Zealand’s international alliances: there were New Zealand soldiers based in Afghanistan for most of the time that the US and British armies occupied that country, and the New Zealand Defence Force has supported the Ukrainian army with training. There’s the looming prospect of joining (the non-nuclear parts of) an Aukus partnership with a defence role in the Pacific, so military and trade policy is clearly important. 

Despite this, there are relatively few foreign trade, aid and defence policies being offered by parties in the 2023 election. For a more thorough breakdown of each policy, go to Policy.nz

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Trade and culture

Differentiating New Zealand’s trade offerings by emphasising Māori knowledge is a focus for Labour, who want indigenous expertise to be integrated into intellectual property as they seek more trade deals

The Green Party says that trade policies should be more transparent, especially in terms of human and environmental rights being explicitly protected in policy. It also wants to support decolonisation movements around the world.

New Zealand First wants to withdraw from the United Nations Declaration of the Right of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), an agreement that has become a magnet for conspiracy in the last three years. The Act Party also wants the government to do no further work on UNDRIP, which is non-binding, as they say it creates unequal outcomes. In terms of trade, Act wants to tie the price of carbon sold via offsets to that of New Zealand’s trading partners, citing a fear that New Zealand’s emissions commitments will be an economic disadvantage. 

Foreign investment is an area of interest for a number of parties. Te Pāti Māori would tax foreign companies that operate in New Zealand. National and Act, meanwhile, want to increase foreign investment: National would allow foreign buyers to purchase homes worth more than $2m (which would be taxed). The New Conservatives have a similar policy, which also extends to people with more than three properties. Act would allow investors from OECD countries to avoid restrictions on foreign investment, which it says would create more competition. 

However, National responds to concerns that foreign investors are profiting from planting forests to create carbon credits by banning international individuals/institutions from participating in forestry-farmland conversion. The Opportunities Party wants to reduce impediments to foreign investment in general. 

Live animal exports are currently banned, but the National Party, Act and New Zealand First would all bring this back. New Zealand First wants to further support the shipping industry by building a dry dock for ship repairs at Northport in Whangārei.

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Defence and international relations

New Zealand First continues its interest in Northport by saying that the Devonport Naval Base should be moved to Whangārei for economic and security reasons. 

The Green Party supports an independent West Papua, which is currently occupied by Indonesia, and wants New Zealand to recognise Palestine as a state. It is particularly interested in the Pacific, including opposing participation with the Aukus alliance and militarisation in the Pacific. It supports the idea that New Zealand should have an independent foreign policy that does not automatically follow traditional allies like Australia, the UK and the US. Te Pāti Māori also focus on the Pacific, saying that in the context of climate change, Pacific leaders should receive more diplomatic help

In terms of aid, the Green Party wants to prioritise defence spending on environmental threats and humanitarian crises, rather than involvement in conflicts. The Act Party wants to close the Human Rights Commission, which focuses on human rights issues in New Zealand but is part of the international perception of Aotearoa, as it says that the commision is too left wing. 

The Act Party want to increase defence spending so that it is 2% of New Zealand’s GDP, spending the additional money on increasing NZDF wages and buying new equipment. 

While the Labour Party and National Party have not announced any specific defence policy, Labour would ask for Māori expertise to be recognised in development projects. 

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