Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Otago Foreign Policy School Turns 50: Ken Ross Recounts Early Memories and High Moments in the School's History

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Otago Foreign Policy School Turns 50: Ken Ross Recounts Early Memories and High Moments in the School's History

Article excerpt

David Lange is the only New Zealand prime minister to have addressed the Otago Foreign Policy School. His 1985 presentation was made at a pivotal point in his global diplomacy and is the high moment in the school's 50 years. The school was one of four developments that improved the national conversation on international affairs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The school is a much appreciated, enduring quality journeyman contributing to what public discussion there has been in New Zealand of our role in world affairs in the past half-century.

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'From now on, when we have to deal with new situations, we shall not say, what do the British think about it, or what would the Americans want us to do. Our starting point will be, what do we think about it? What course of action best accords with the fundamental principles of our foreign policy?' (Norman Kirk, 1973) (1)

'Concern with foreign affairs in New Zealand tends to be confined, in the first place, to the country's diplomats and, secondly, to a number of private individuals who take an interest in the world scene but cannot regard it as a main preoccupation--university lecturers, churchmen and a handful of journalists.' (Alexander MacLeod, 1970) (2)

The Otago Foreign Policy School was one of a quartet of developments that largely constituted the national conversation on New Zealand's foreign policy between 1966 and 1972. Together they were leading players in improving the quality of the 'what do we think about it?' that Kirk so wanted New Zealanders to develop.

The other developments were the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' new willingness under George Laking's leadership to speak in public, the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs' (NZIIA) boost in profile (from a Ford Foundation grant) and the New Zealand Listeners increased coverage of world affairs during Alexander MacLeod's editorship.

The Foreign Policy School began in 1966. I was there. I came again for seven of the next nine schools. These ten were organised by the school's instigator, Arnold Entwisle, a senior lecturer in the university's adult education department. (3)

I returned once more--for the only time a prime minister has presented. In 1985, David Lange made the school his platform to make clear to Bob Hawke, Margaret Thatcher, the Americans and his own officials that he was 'not for turning'. New Zealand would become nuclear-free.

The school was crowded when Lange spoke. In addition to the usual collection of MacLeod's 'private individuals', media and an array of foreigners were present. Primarily they wanted to see Lange--maybe there would be another Oxford Union Debate performance. Instead, taking a leaf from Norman Kirk, he spoke quietly, simply and clearly. This time he allowed for none of his renowned superb ambiguity.

The latter part of this article looks more closely at the importance of Lange's 1985 presentation. This was a pivotal moment in Lange's global diplomacy. The case is to be laid out more comprehensively in my presentation at this year's school.

In drawing attention to the school's role in Lange's global diplomacy, I suggest that the 1985 school is the high moment in the school's 50 years for being on centre court at peak hour, its fifteen minutes of fame--well at least, among other things, appearing in good light on the front page of the Dominion for three successive issues. (4)

Otherwise, the school has been a much appreciated quality journeyman for its 50 years: a steady responsible contributor to what public discussion there has been in New Zealand of our role in world affairs.

The school was an unexpected prospect for becoming such an enduring institution and quite endearing to those who have attended. The structure that Entwisle constructed continues still --the Dunedin wintry weekend residential character with a series of presentations, usually followed by valued discussion. …

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