INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Minister Sutton's Invitation to Usda Secretary

Published: Tue 24 May 2005 01:01 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS E F T O SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000409
SIPDIS
STATE PASS USDA FAS
STATE FOR EAP/ANP/RAMSEY AND EB/TPP/BTA/ANA/ARMSTRONG
USDA FOR FAS/FAA/CONLON AND SEBRANEK, FAS/OA/TERPSTRA,
AND FAS/ITP/SHEIKH AND MEYER
SENSITIVE
NOFORN
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETRD TBIO EAGR ECON NZ
SUBJECT: MINISTER SUTTON'S INVITATION TO USDA SECRETARY
JOHANNS TO VISIT NEW ZEALAND - - POLITICAL SCENESETTER
REF: WELLINGTON 00360
SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU/NF) Aides to New Zealand Agriculture Minister
Sutton have reiterated to us their hope that Secretary
Johanns will visit New Zealand, noting that a potential
August/September visit, timed to a Quint Ministerial in
Australia, would be viewed as "supportive." Minister
Sutton would welcome the Secretary's visit despite the
fact that the Minister is facing a tough re-election
campaign in this year's general election, which will
probably be held August 20 or September 17. Sutton also
has been drawn into the political limelight recently
because of a decision by Tim Groser, New Zealand's WTO
Ambassador and chair of the WTO's Agricultural
Negotiating Committee, to run for parliament as an
opposition National Party candidate. End Summary.
2. (U) Jim Sutton is Minister for Agriculture in the current
Labor Government of New Zealand. He also is Minister for
Biosecurity and Minister for Trade Negotiations.
Minister Sutton recently relinquished the Forestry and
Rural Affairs portfolios. He is the only Labor Party
Member of Parliament with a rural/farming-based
constituency. Most of New Zealand's farming community
falls in the center-to-right of the political spectrum
while the Labor Party generally represents the center-to-
left. Minister Sutton represents the Aoraki District in
the South Island. Excluding the city of Timaru
(estimated population of 27,000), the district is made up
of small farming/rural communities. Minister Sutton has
represented Aoraki since 1996. Prior to that he was an
MP for Timaru (1993-96) and an MP for Waitaki (North
Otago) from 1984-1990.
3. (SBU/NF) Jo Goodhew, the National Party's candidate
for the Aoraki District, will challenge Minister Sutton
in the coming general election. Trained as a nurse,
Goodhew recently resigned from her position as
coordinator for New Zealand's Safer Community Council.
Goodhew has been involved in a range of community
activities in Timaru and enjoys a high profile in the
district. In a speech to National's southern division
this week, National Party Leader, Dr. Don Brash,
identified Minister Sutton's seat as one of three South
Island Labor seats National was targeting for the general
election. Recent National Party polling reportedly shows
a significant swing toward National in Minister Sutton's
district. According to local media reporting, Minister
Sutton rejected National's polling results, but
acknowledged that he was working hard in Aoraki given
that he had always viewed the seat as marginal despite
his majority in past elections.
4. (SBU/NF) With the National Party believing that
Goodhew will pose a serious threat to Sutton in the
upcoming election, it will strongly support her campaign.
Goodhew's appeal to voters in the Aoraki District will
focus on the following issues:
5. (SBU/NF) Sutton is viewed by much of rural New Zealand
as being the spokesperson for the Government's efforts to
grant greater access to public lands. These areas,
referred to as the "Esplanade Reserves," include New
Zealand's coastline and 20 meters on both sides of all
waterways. Federated Farmers of New Zealand has
expressed its support for maintaining private property
rights within the context of the land access issue. In
general, the farming community believes that the public
already enjoys adequate access to waterways across
privately held farmland and is disappointed that the
Government has not staked out a position that indicates
its support for the property rights of rural landowners.
The Government currently is proposing to establish a
commission that will explore the land access issue.
6. (SBU/NF) Voters in rural areas, including the Aoraki
District, generally view the public land access issue as
a Labor Party initiative that serves its urban
constituents. Goodhew has characterized Minister Sutton
as being out of touch with rural concerns on waterway
access. The Government's efforts are seen as potentially
interfering with farmland management, raising safety
concerns, and posing biosecurity risks. A sense of
distance between Minister Sutton and his Aoraki
constituents is heightened by the fact that he
permanently resides in Wellington, following his divorce
several years ago. Prior to entering politics, Minister
Sutton was a fulltime farmer.
7. (SBU/NF) Plans to increase power output from
hydroelectric facilities on the Waitaki River, which runs
across the southern boundary of the Aoraki District, are
viewed cautiously by the local farming community.
Concern exists that a balanced approach to water
allocation will not be maintained and that future
irrigation requirements will be overlooked in favor of
urban electrical demands. This concern is heightened by
a shift in decision-making authority for the project from
a regional level to the central government.
8. (SBU/NF) A number of schools in the Aoraki District
are being closed in response to the Ministry of
Education's consolidation of school facilities throughout
New Zealand. This includes the closure of the Pleasant
Point secondary school in the Aoraki District, with
students being transferred to Temuka secondary school.
Pleasant Point has a student body of 250-300 students.
An additional two dozen smaller rural primary schools
face closure in the Aoraki District. Minister Sutton
could face a voter backlash from the emotionally charged
school closings being undertaken by the Labor Government.
9. (SBU/NF) Weighing in favor of Minister Sutton's re-
election will be the general well-being of New Zealand's
farming community based on exceptionally strong dairy and
meat (beef and lamb) export price levels, which have
offset lower returns resulting from the appreciation of
New Zealand's currency during the past two years. Voters
may see benefits from maintaining Minister Sutton in his
role as Minister for Trade Negotiations as New Zealand
pursues its efforts to open markets to its agricultural
products through the Doha trade round and to secure a
free trade agreement with the United States.
10. (SBU/NF) As further proof that agriculture may be a
significant issue in the coming elections, the National
Party has announced the nomination of Tim Groser to fill
one of its Party (List) seats. His candidacy means that
he will have to stand down as New Zealand's WTO
ambassador since it is a posting of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade and public servants are not
permitted to keep their jobs while standing for
Parliament. Mr. Grosser reportedly has expressed his
intention to stay on to chair the WTO's agricultural
negotiations until December under the belief that since
he was appointed to the position by the WTO, it is
outside of New Zealand Government's authority. Prime
Minister Clark, however, has expressed her Government's
loss of confidence in Mr. Groser's ability to continue to
chair the WTO's agricultural negotiating committee. With
New Zealand's general election to be held no later than
September 24, Groser's ability to chair the agricultural
negotiations when trade ministers meet in Hong Kong next
December is not certain. Mr. Groser is expected to
resign by the end of the week as New Zealand's ambassador
to the WTO. He will make a case for continuing as
chairman of the agricultural negotiations as a private
citizen and reportedly is offering to personally fund his
expenses for staying on in Geneva.
11. (SBU/NF) A spokesperson for National Leader Dr. Don
Brash indicated that Mr. Groser will forgo his MP's
salary if elected and would remain at the WTO until
December. The National Party will attempt to make
political capital in the run-up to the general election
from Labor's decision not to support Mr. Groser in
staying on in Geneva. Media reports indicate that Mr.
Groser was offered a top-30 list position, which if true,
would make his election highly likely.
12. (SBU/NF) Comment: Minister Sutton is facing a
difficult election and may not maintain the 6,400-vote
majority in the Aoraki District that he obtained 4 years
earlier. If he should lose the election, but a Labor-led
Government emerges, he would likely retain his
Ministerial portfolio and be designated as a List (Party)
MP for Labor. If the National Party should emerge
victorious, Tim Groser could become National's new
Minister for Trade Negotiations and/or Foreign Minister.
SWINDELLS
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