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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Lange's impact on NZ and world
David Lange in 1984
Lange's anti-nuclear stance became a hallmark of New Zealand's identity
The former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, who has died aged 63, introduced an aggressively anti-nuclear stance and bold modernising of socialist politics to the world stage.

Before he took over the leadership of New Zealand's Labour Party in 1983, the left-leaning party's anti-nuclear stance had made little impact.

But it was soon to become one of the cornerstones of the country's foreign policy - and one that would put it on a collision course with the US in some of the darkest days of the Cold War.

When Lange became prime minister after the snap election of 1984, New Zealand angered its allies - particularly the Reagan administration - by refusing to allow nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships into its ports.

Lange's opposition to French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific - New Zealand's "back yard" - was vocal and insistent.

It grew even more strident after France bombed a Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour.

Anti-nuclear campaigner

The 1985 attack thrust Lange - and New Zealand's - anti-nuclear views on to the world stage.

Just months before, the prime minister, a forceful public speaker, had travelled to the Oxford University Union debate in Britain to argue that nuclear weapons were illegal.

"Those who build nuclear weapons, and those who devise nuclear strategies, do more than provide for their own defence. They have it in their hands to determine the fate of us all," he told the debate.

Lange and Labour's commitment to the anti-nuclear cause - in the age of 'mutually assured destruction' - was instrumental in creating New Zealand's environmentalist identity, former Labour prime minister Mike Moore told the BBC.

"This was a deep emotional issue to New Zealanders," he said. "He was of a generation born out of the anti-war movement."

You talk to Kiwis... and they think that clean, green nuclear-free New Zealand was their contribution to world peace
Mike Moore
Former NZ prime minister

After the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, New Zealand ended up "with the highest percentage of Greenpeace members in the world.

"This is a very deep, deeply-held New Zealand belief," Mr Moore told the BBC's World Today programme.

"Go to any classroom and there's always pictures of whales and the nuclear-free New Zealand, it's more of an identity thing than a security thing."

New Zealand, with its relatively brief history, and the lack of a strong Republican movement like that seen in neighbouring Australia, found identity in that 'green movement', Mr Moore said.

Far-reaching reforms

"You talk to Kiwis... and they think that clean, green nuclear-free New Zealand was their contribution to world peace," he said.

So important was that stance that National, New Zealand's leading right-wing party, have never felt able to change it while in government.

"No political party in New Zealand will change that policy... and success in politics is when you get your enemies to accept your policy, because they know it can't be changed."

David Lange
Lange's administration introduced dramatic reforms

Lange's Labour government also set up the Department of Conservation in 1987, which oversees national parks and protects New Zealand's many bird species.

Lange's reformist Labour government was also "New Labour when Tony Blair was still at school", Mr Moore said.

Led by the free-market thinking of finance minister Roger Douglas - quickly dubbed 'Rogernomics' by headline writers - Lange's government was responsible for the biggest economic reforms in New Zealand's history.

The reforms, which included selling off state-owned assets, alienated the party from many of its traditional working class voters. Farmers were also upset at an end to agricultural subsidies.

But the reforms have been seen as a blueprint for the centrist policies of Blair's New Labour administration.

New Zealand ex-leader dies at 63
13 Aug 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: New Zealand
14 Jun 05 |  Country profiles

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