Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has announced his intention to sue New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters over controversial remarks made during a radio interview. The incident occurred amidst ongoing debates in New Zealand surrounding the AUKUS alliance, with discussions devolving into personal attacks.

During the radio interview, Peters accused Carr of having close ties with China following a foreign policy speech Carr delivered the previous night. While specific details of Peters’ comments were not republished by wire services and local media, one remark was later repeated during New Zealand Question Time under parliamentary privilege.

Carr’s office confirmed to the ABC that legal action is being pursued, with Carr himself describing the comments as “entirely defamatory.”

Peters, who serves as New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and leader of NZ First, faced backlash from the opposition, which called for his resignation.

The ongoing debate in New Zealand revolves around the country’s potential involvement in the second pillar of the AUKUS alliance, focusing on the development and sharing of advanced technologies. Carr had previously criticized the pact during a visit to Wellington in April.

Peters’ response during his foreign policy speech and subsequent interviews sparked controversy, with him questioning Carr’s interference in New Zealand’s affairs. Radio NZ edited its clip of the interview to remove the section containing potentially defamatory remarks.

In a statement, Carr criticized Peters for attempting to sway New Zealanders away from their longstanding non-nuclear principles, a policy supported by both sides of New Zealand politics for the past 30 years.

Calls for Peters to be stood down

prime minister and now Opposition Leader Chris Hipkins said Mr Peters had “embarrassed the country” with his remarks about Mr Carr. “The allegations that he has made against Bob Carr — a senior and well-respected Australian politician — are totally unacceptable,” he said. “The fact that you’ve now got someone like Bob Carr taking defamation action against Winston Peters is embarrassing for New Zealand, it shows that Winston Peters has abused his office as minister of foreign affairs and this now becomes a problem for the Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. “He should stand Winston Peters down immediately.” Mr Hipkins said Mr Peters “cannot execute his duties as foreign affairs minister with this hanging over him”. “He’s embarrassed the country. He’s created legal risk to the New Zealand government,” he said. Mr Luxon said while he would not have said similarly, Mr Peters was “doing an exceptional job” as foreign minister. “I’m sure Bob Carr as a seasoned politician understands the rough and tumble of politics,” he said. The ABC has contacted Winston Peters for comment but is yet to receive a response. In New Zealand Question Time today, he was asked if he stood by “his criticism of AUKUS critics, including his statement about the honourable Bob Carr that, quote, ‘he is nothing more than a Chinese puppet’?” Mr Peters responded: “Yes, particularly those comments that highlighted the fact that critics don’t know what they don’t know regarding the strategic challenges New Zealand faces,” he said. While under parliamentary privilege, he then said “as for Bob Carr, it appears we’ve been late to the party” and held up a printed version of an Australian Financial Review article from 2018 and read its headline aloud, saying: “How Bob Carr became China’s pawn”. In a statement today, Mr Carr pointed to lines in his address to a Labour-led AUKUS forum in Wellington last month. “In that speech, along with my valid criticisms of AUKUS, I said: ‘Australia is entitled to challenge China, to press back against China’s influence-building in the South Pacific’,” the statement read. “But on AUKUS I say that $368 billion is the biggest transfer of wealth outside of Australia that has ever happened in our history and, with the retirement of the Collin’s class, we could be left in the 2030s with no sovereign submarine capacity.”

New Zealand and AUKUS

In the 1980s, New Zealand enacted legislation establishing the country as a nuclear-free zone, making it unlikely for the nation to consider joining pillar one of the AUKUS deal. However, there has been considerable debate within the country regarding potential involvement in pillar two and its implications for New Zealand’s foreign policy independence.

The second pillar of the pact entails the development and sharing of advanced military capabilities, including cyber and AI-powered technologies, as well as hypersonic weaponry. Japan and South Korea have expressed interest in joining pillar two, while Canada and New Zealand have been mentioned as possible members.

During his foreign policy speech, Winston Peters highlighted that Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have yet to decide whether they want New Zealand to participate in pillar two. He emphasized that a crucial precondition for New Zealand’s involvement is the invitation from AUKUS partners, which has not been met. Consequently, New Zealand is engaging with its traditional partners to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scope and implications of pillar two before making any decisions.