New Zealand wants a non-nuclear Pacific. Jack O'Sullivan talks to a leading Catholic campaigner about the Church response
A STORM is brewing in the Pacific. The Queen may wave the flag, the Americans may still ,rule the waves, but the rumblings of discontent are growing louder.
Ever since the election in July 1984 of Labour's David Lange as New Zealand's prime minister, tension has been growing between the man portrayed as an antipodean Ken Livingstone and his military allies in Europe and the United States.
And the churches have been standing squarely behind Mr Lange in the dispute. The issue is nuclear weapons — the testing and movement of them around the Pacific.
In July, the New Zealand Parliament is expected to vote on a bill declaring the country a "nuclear-free zone".
Such legislation, although opposed by Sir Robert Muldoon's opposition National Party, has popular support. It is a logical progression. from the decision to ban from New Zealand ports, ships carrying nuclear weapons.
But it is an historic break from New Zealand's commitment, with Australia and the United States, to the ANZUS military treaty. The New Zealanders declared war on Hitler even before Britain — thanks to the time difference.
This week, a representative of the Catholic Church went to France to explain the change of heart.
Manuka Henare, 44-year-old executive officer of New Zealand's Catholic Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Development, told the French they should stop testing nuclear weapons at Mururoa in the Pacific.
He carried with him the Commission's slogan: "If it is safe, dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris, store it in Washington, but keep my Pacific nuclear free." From a Pacific point of view, Pax Americana seems to offer less the security of peace and more the danger of war and poisoning the environment.
As long ago as 1983, the Commission, which is responsible to the bishops, called on New Zealand's government to "seriously consider a policy of nonalignment and disassociation from all superpowers — this means the immediate commencement of research into ways to withdraw from present military pacts, in particular, ANZUS."
The bishops themselves are a little more reserved. But, explained Mr Henare, last week, they are within an ace of declaring deterrence to be evil.
And ordinary Catholics have been taking the issue into their own hands. Schools, churches, cathedrals and towns have been declaring themselves nuclearfree zones for years, said Mr Henare.
Prime Minister Lange has really only given official Government backing to a situation which already existed.
The revolt has isolated New Zealand. The United States is widely reported to have cut supplies of military intelligence. But the policy, whose nationalist flavour disguises the nasty medicine of a right-wing economic strategy, remains popular.
It is no coincidence that the Royal Navy will be touring the Pacific and Indian oceans in its biggest show of strength there in ten years (operation Global 86) from April to December, just as the nuclear legislation is presented to Parliament.
Mr Henare argued that the people of the Northern Hemisphere are caught in a "mind-set". Centuries of warfare have, he said, built into their psyche and that of the Churches an obsession with selfdefence. "You are locked into a spiral of violence."
He said that because of a different history, the Gospel imperative most obvious to Pacific nations is that of peace and non-violence.
In contrast, the Northern Hemisphere focuses on a moral right to bear arms, a Gospel concession he says we have turned into an imperative. "That is the mind-set."
His message is reiterated by the Japanese bishops who have called for a nuclear-free zone in east Asia.
New Zealand's detachment from the coat-tails of America and Western Europe has coincided with a renaissance in Maori culture and aspirations. A movement given a fillip by the vociferous campaign to stop the 1981 South African rugby tour, it has grown in resistance to racism and in defence of land rights.
Maoris constitute 14 per cent of New Zealand's half million Catholics. Two years ago the bishops set up Te Runanga o Te Katorika ki Aotearoa — the National Maori Catholic body.
Its aim, said Mr Henare, is to "establish a Catholic Church that Maoris feel comfortable with, so they can express their faith through their own culture."
Indeed the appointment of Mr Henare, a Maori of north Auckland's Te Aupouri tribe, is recognition of the bishops' concern to respond to Maori hopes.
But there are still only nine Maori priests. The Vatican is shortly to be urged to install the country's first Maori bishop. And, as Mr Henare pointed out, the rhetoric at the top is ahead of the general population. But 146 years after Maoris arguably signed away many of their rights to Queen Victoria in the Treaty of Waitangi, the Commission is funding groups fighting for Maori land rights.
The strength of Maori indignation at their lack of rights was aptly illustrated this week, when the Queen found herself in the firing line of a volley of eggs. She, more than any other individual, symbolises to Maoris what they regard as dispossession.
The country's 400,000 Maoris remain economically disadvantaged. Unemployment is running at 14 per cent among New Zealand's 3.5 million population, but over half the nation's employable Maoris are jobless.
As well as supporting Maori claims, the Church's newly acquired radicalism has also focused on a number of other foreign issues. Mr Henare's commission has attacked Indonesian aggression in East Timor and urged the French Government to grant independence to New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
It is all part of a coming of age, a recognition that New Zealand is a Pacific, not a European nation. The reality could become starkly clear if HMS Illustrious or any of the other six Navy ships in Global 86 ask to visit New Zealand.
If they do not admit they have no nuclear weapons on board, (something the British Government has refused to do in the past) they will be barred from entry. The rift between Northern Hemisphere and Pacific will grow a little wider. New Zealand's Church knows which side it is on.