When I tell other westerners that I am from New Zealand, they often respond with words of praise for the country’s scenic beauty, adventure sports, clean environment and sexy livestock . And they often say how great it is that New Zealand is a “nuclear-free” zone. I really don’t share this admiration. Personally, I have always felt the policy “triumph” to be a non-event.
New Zealand’s nuclear-free status, which was established soon after the 1984 election victory for the Labour party, was the culmination of years of campaigning by peace and – to a lesser extent – environmental activists. From that time it has been illegal to have nukes in New Zealand. Not that there were any nukes there to begin with. New Zealand never had nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons, and was never going to have them.
The only thing the nuclear-free policy changed was stopping the occasional American nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ship or submarine from making a brief visit to a New Zealand port. As I said, from an environmental point of view, it is a non-event. To give a domestic comparison, it would be equivalent to me declaring my kitchen a “shag free zone.” However, I have to admit that the nuclear ban has enhanced the perception of N.Z. being a clean green paradise, and it has therefore been a boon to tourism and food exporters.
The nuclear-free policy was a perfect cause for the left wing at the perfect time; it was anti-war, anti-American, pro-environment, pro-peace, and it could be played out as a David and Goliath struggle; gutsy little New Zealand standing up to America the Bully. French activities in the Pacific – conducting nuclear tests and the sinking of the Greenpeace boat in Auckland – increased public support for New Zealand’s stance.
The majority of New Zealanders agreed with the Labour government’s nuclear-free policy and many took great pride in it. For me, it was only of symbolic importance and I believe it was a distraction from other environmental issues, chiefly invasive species. I would much rather make New Zealand a “cat-free zone.” Cats – both of the feral and pet variety – are one of the biggest environmental problems in New Zealand.
Of course, this is not an attractive “cause” and the electorate is not yet ready for it.