Serving the Labour Party after the election
Once freed from campaigning Neil became more involved in other issues.
After the election he felt he should give some time and effort to the
Labour Party in return for all the valuable support during the election, so
he got involved with the electorate committee.
GST an issue at the Labour Party Conference
During this period there was a Labour Party Conference at which the
introduction of GST was an issue. Neil, as is his wont, searched for
information about the impact of a tax like GST on employment and the
economy. Some research had been done at Massey University (at Palmerston
North in the North Island) showing that countries that had this independent
direct tax rather than income tax had higher employment rates. As a result
when it came to the vote at the conference he voted for the introduction of
GST. Some the delegates and MPs who were with Neil on the Peace and Social
Justice committee were strongly opposed to GST and found it difficult to
accept that Neil would vote according to the facts as he saw them rather
than vote to support the views of others in the group.
Public Advisory Committee for Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC)
Before Neil stood for Parliament he had for some time been the convenor of
Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA) in Canterbury. This was a parallel
organisation to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear
The connection was largely through Kate Dewes and the Riccarton Peace
Group, but beyond that particularly through the Medical School scientists
who were interested in the anti-nuclear issue.
PACDAC was set up under the Nuclear-free Act to be an advisory committee
for the Government on disarmament, arms control, research and education.
After the election, in the second term of the Labour Government, Neil was
asked if he would fill the vacancy on that committee for a three year term.
The work there included what Neil described as 'a fascinating experience'
-having to administer the trust fund which the French had paid out after
the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. There were two funds - one
environmental and one a peace fund administered by PACDAC and used to give
money for research and education on peace and disarmament. This meant that
PACDAC had applications from community groups for support from that fund.
Also they had to advise the Minister of Defence and through that channel
Parliament and the Government on matters related to the nuclear free issue
One of the major issues in which PACDAC was involved was the purchase of
frigates. The committee asked to be briefed by the Ministry of Defence and
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the frigates.
Neil takes up the account
"There was the position that the frigates would be required to meet New
Zealand's special military requirements, so we were told that there was an
open search around the world for the best frigates. That included gaining
information about German, Danish, English, American and Australian
frigates. We asked for the specifications that were being sought. That
became known as 'the missing frigate paper' because it went from department
to department, to cabinet, to the Minister of Defence and back to the
departments but did not return to PACDAC for over six months. In the
meantime we requested from the Australians what their specifications were.
This paper arrived within weeks."
"When finally Bob Tizard, Minister of Defence, released the New Zealand
specifications it was amazing! One word had been changed to two words.
When we put the specifications side by side on the Australian specification
sheet they had simply taken 'Australia' out and put 'New Zealand'. I was
learning a lot about bureaucracy in politics."
"It would seem that the New Zealand Government had decided to buy
Australian frigates and therefore chose the Australian specifications for
the New Zealand specifications which meant that nobody else could meet
them. Bob Hawke and his staff were no doubt pressuring the New Zealand
Government to do that and the Government responded. Because of the Closer
Economics Relations (CER) with Australia there was great pressure to choose
the Australian frigates and it was clearly a political decision. There
were actually cheaper frigates available from Denmark and Germany, with
more sophisticated weaponry and electronics, but it made sense to the
Cabinet to improve the New Zealand economy because the Australians agreed
some of the contracts would come to New Zealand companies, so the
Government was trying to meet multiple objectives, not just defence, but
also employment and financial objectives as well as stronger relations with
In Neil's view that decision actually had a strong influence on national
security. He was promoting the view that national security was more about
the security of New Zealand families - income and employment - than just
about frigates and defence forces. That, he believes, was the thinking of
the Government in ordering Australian frigates.
People like Neil and Kate Dewes who have professional training and
experience and are outside the system, as community activists become
involved with that system. They come to understand that there are
establishment positions of not only the politicians but also the public
servants in relationships with the community, with industry, with NGOs and
international relationships - a huge network of which most New Zealanders
are totally unaware. On one hand the activists find it frustrating because
the perfect image of a democracy disappears, because vested interests are
involved in lobbying Parliament. On the other hand understanding the
Parliamentary and bureaucratic system means that they can serve the
International Year of Peace 1986
Neil was a member of the National Committee from October 1985 to December
1986, and a member of the Canterbury Committee from January 1986 to January
Neil and Gae both working for peace
Neil and Gae were very much involved in the peace movement, and Neil was
able to attend their annual conferences. Kate Dewes and Neil were members
of a committee in Christchurch and also of a committee set up in
Kate Dewes summed up Neil's peace work in the Peace Award citation.
Dr Neil James Cherry ONZM
Neil Cherry has been a tireless worker for peace and disarmament
research and education for many years. In 1985 he founded the Canterbury
Branch of Scientists Against Nuclear Arms and convened the group until
1996. He was an active member of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists
and 'Beyond War', the Aotearoa/New Zealand Peace Foundation, Students and
Teachers Educating for Peace and the Riccarton Peace Group. He was a member
of the local committees of the 1986 United Nations International Year of
Peace and served as the scientific member of the Public Advisory Committee
on Disarmament and Arms Control from 1989-1991. He was awarded the 1990
Commemorative Medal by the government for services to peace and disarmament
research and education. He has also published articles about the dangers of
nuclear power and nuclear winter, and the need for nuclear
Gae's testing crisis
One of the aspects of working for peace was the contact with interesting
people. It was in this context of peace work that Gae and Neil met Sonja
Davies. They greatly valued the friendship, but for Gae it was to lead to
a most testing experience. On one occasion Sonja was to be the main speaker
at a Bahai conference in Timaru for delegates from all over New Zealand.
Gae and Neil were to go to Timaru for the weekend as Neil was one of the
main speakers at the gathering.
Sonja came home ill on her return from overseas. Shortly before the
conference she rang Neil and said that she was unable to fill her
engagement to speak at the conference. She asked if somebody else would
stand in for her and do her speech. Expecting that the script of the
address would be sent to her Gae agreed. Some hours later they found that
Sonja was going to speak off the cuff and there was no speech. Gae was
truly appalled. She asked Kate Dewes if she could do it, but she had other
commitments. She provided a speech from which she could use extracts.
Unfortunately they were not suitable.
Gae tried to put together a speech, but could not eat or sleep, haunted by
the fact that a lot of people were attending the conference largely because
Sonja was going to speak at it. She ultimately decided that the only way
she could do it was to approach it in her own way which was through
audience involvement. At that time she was involved in Christian feminism,
and reading a book about the significance and power of myths which when
internalised affected our way of life. She decided to tell the story of
Adam and Eve - one of the stories in the book - and centre it around a
family peace context. Then she asked them to finish the myth differently
with a more appropriate mythological ending - a more powerful conclusion
particularly for women.
Gae was intensely nervous about it. She had not eaten or slept. About an
hour before the session began she discovered that there was to be a Maori
powhiri and that Gae as Sonja's replacement was to be the recipient in the
ceremony, observing all the right protocol. She knew nothing about what
she was expected to do.
It all went off smoothly and so many people congratulated Gae on being so
brave as to take over from Sonja. Gae's thought was that she was not
brave, just stupid! Much later Gae met Sonja again and said to her, "Do
you realise that you were responsible for some of the worst moments in my
life?" For Sonja it was just another speech and she had no idea of how
terrible it had been for Gae.
For more information about Neil Cherry's scientific research go to his
Return to the index of
Neil Cherry's life story.