National wants freedom to impose sanctions when United Nations won't

National wants freedom for New Zealand to autonomously impose sanctions on countries when the United Nations (UN) is unable or unwilling to do so. 

Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party, launched a discussion document on Monday outlining the party's policies on international affairs, including the need for UN reform.

"Over the past few years we have seen the emergence of new threats to our freedoms and liberties. We should be prepared to stand against those who would seek to undermine our values."

He mentioned "abuses that happened in Russia - think about the poisoning in the United Kingdom", referring to the nerve agent attack last year on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. 

Britain blamed Russia for the poisoning, but Moscow denied any involvement and suggested that Britain had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

It led to over 20 like-minded countries expelling Russian diplomats in protest. But New Zealand was criticised after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that there were no Russian spies in the embassy to expel and didn't impose any sanctions. 

Ardern said on Monday it's unfair to imply that New Zealand doesn't have the ability to put in place sanctions on other countries. But New Zealand is a UN Member State and is bound by the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) decisions.

National leader Simon Bridges in Parliament.
National leader Simon Bridges in Parliament. Photo credit: Getty

She said New Zealand is also able to take action in other ways such as refusal of entry visas, expulsion of diplomats, and the suspension of aid and cooperation.

"I see the Opposition have said it's one of their priorities, and they're absolutely within their rights, but I've not yet come across a situation where I feel that we've been unable to take a stand or position on an issue and have needed this legislation."

Pointing to ex-Russian spy poisoning, Bridges said: "These are the reasons we want this law passed on so we can act when it's right to act in accordance with New Zealand's values and interests."

But Foreign Minister Winston Peters suggested New Zealand taking a stand with sanctions would have little effect because of our size.

"If you're going to autonomously put sanctions on country A and nobody else does, you think anybody's going to notice?"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty

UN Migration Compact 

The controversial UN Migration Compact was conspicuously absent from National's foreign policy document. 

The pact, which the Government signed and National strongly opposed, was scrawled on the alleged Christchurch gunman's weapon after the document was picked up and condemned by the alt-right.

National had started a petition to stop the Government from signing up. It was swiftly taken down from the party's website following the Christchurch terror attack, sparking the 'emotional junior staffer' saga. 

The international agreement's aim is to coordinate migration policy worldwide, but it's non-binding and has no effect in law. The Government signed New Zealand up in December, along with 164 other countries.

When questioned by Newshub Bridges said National would still withdraw from the pact if the party's elected in 2020. "This is about New Zealand deciding its position on immigration by itself not by United Nations".

Bridges said: "Our position is that it is important for New Zealand that we set our immigration policy in New Zealand not by the United Nations and we disagree with the United Nations Migration Compact."

NZ-US free trade agreement

National prioritised New Zealand's relationship with the United States, calling for a free trade agreement (FTA). It also set an ambitious goal of doubling two-way trade between China and New Zealand to $60 billion by 2030.

"Trade is clearly important - it's how we pave our way in the world and I'm really clear that New Zealand should be looking at aggressively pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States," Bridges said.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters with US Vice President Mike Pence.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters with US Vice President Mike Pence. Photo credit: Twitter

"They clearly have history with us, we share common values, and we've fought together. This is an $18 billion relationship with a superpower but that has room to grow."

Ardern said New Zealand will continue to advocate for its interests with the US, "but certainly trade hasn't been a particular priority for the current [Donald Trump] administration".

"With any potential US FTA, it'll be clear to everyone that the US has taken a very particular view on trade under the current administration."

Peters said the National's foreign affairs document is "full of sentiments that are not backed up by evidence, for example, do they not know that Mr Pence has given us a commitment to work on a free trade agreement?"

He met with US Vice President Mike Pence in December last year where the pair the pair discussed improving bilateral trade and "deepening cooperation on shared goals that benefit both countries".