Advance Australia Fair?

Introductory comments by Colin James, Wanaka Aspiring Conversations, 24 April 2016.

Tomorrow is the centennial Anzac Day, the day when we first paused in our daily lives to grieve the killing at Gallipoli and find meaning. (Worse was to come in France and Belgium.) We were on that day in 1916 two dominions linked in battle for our empire.

We, the A and the NZ in Anzac, were later to go different ways as often as we went the same way. But that Gallipoli experience has entered our two folklores as a family emblem.

But if we are the siblings of that folklore, we are not twins. The big brother looks down toward the junior sibling much less than the small sister looks up toward the senior: across the Tasman the NZ is often missing from Anzac; here there is Anz-angst about the relationship.

Of course, we are siblings, de facto as the result of an “ethnic accident”, the British occupation two and a-bit centuries ago. We swapped people, turned bushland into farmland, developed similar accents, were rough-and-ready and down-to-earth and sporty (even if not always sporting) – and mates. We shared what the great Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey called a “tyranny of distance” from Home.

More evidence of family is that we have squabbled, from at least 1908: over what we should do in wars and international politics, notably in the past 50 years about how close to stick to the United States, in Vietnam and Iraq, in nuclear weapons policy and in positioning toward China; over how to treat those of us who live on each other’s turf, (including discriminatory, and this past year rough, treatment of Kiwis in Australia who didn’t or couldn’t get citizenship); over exclusion of New Zealand produce from Australian supermarkets and Dick Smith’s fruit and vegetable business.

We have, as siblings do, grown in some ways a little closer as we have aged. For much of the time from the 1920s till the late 1970s, we spoke less to each other as countries than to mother Britain. But we put together a model free trade agreement in 1983, which, though we have not turned it into a single economic market, reaches far behind the border into a wide range of regulatory matters, including food safety and mutual recognition of most qualifications. Our courts cooperate. We have a joint trade agreement with Asean. We combined forces in East Timor where the Australian commander said later New Zealand was critical to success. Some of our sports codes have developed single competitions. We cooperate in the near-Pacific, in aid and in reacting to disruptions and to that end our defence forces cooperate, now even in Iraq. Mid-level bureaucrats talk to each other. New Zealand ministers sit in on Australian federal-state ministers’ meetings, some of which have been held in New Zealand. Some 600,000 New Zealand-borns live in Australia, including around 130,000 Maori.

But we are foreign as much as family.

After Aotearoa/New Zealand separated from Gondwanaland it evolved a starkly different geology, seismology, topography, geography, climate, flora and fauna. Those have part-shaped the ex-British among us as different peoples, with differences of demeanour and of attitude – on gays, the environment, security, for example. If we are family, we are cousins, not siblings.

Then there are our very different indigenous histories.

Australia was settled from the north 40,000-plus years ago by hunter-gatherers. Aotearoa was settled from the north-east 700 years ago by Polynesians — Maori — who were horticulturalists as well as hunters and built fortified villages. Over time, as other Polynesians have migrated here Aotearoa/New Zealand has become a nation of the Pacific, not just in the Pacific, or on the edge of it as Australia is. We have invented a biculturalism that accords Maori animist culture and European post-Enlightenment culture equal formal status and recognises some iwi rights in the administrative and legal structure. Protection of Maori was a major reason for not joining the Australian federation in 1901 and would be an issue to be resolved if we were to join now.
There is one other huge difference: size. Australia is multiple times bigger in land mass, population and economic output. So of course, it pays far less attention to New Zealand than vice-versa. Australian foreign policy bothers about New Zealand for the Pacific and to the extent New Zealand is worrisome, necessary or useful. New Zealand foreign policy cannot avoid Australia — to the extent that in Wellington Australia policy is quasi-domestic policy. Trans-Tasman trade is far more important to New Zealand than to Australia. The New Zealand economy needs Australia to do well. Australian firms like New Zealand to do well but beyond that Australia worries only if New Zealand seems headed for a slide, as it did when pushing free trade in 1982. (Australian CEOs have persistently said over the past 10 years said they wished they could have our government.)

So bigger Australia pays far less attention to New Zealand than vice-versa. An honest New Zealand diplomat will quietly tell you that any New Zealand proposal for a trans-Tasman policy or programme gets a positive response only when it comes to the top of an Australian officials’ or ministers’ list, as determined by domestic priorities. Try getting mutual recognition of dividend franking/imputation credits: short-term revenue needs trump economic findings that Australia would benefit.

So is there an Anzac story? Paul Kelly, when he was editor-in-chief of The Australian, appointed a fulltime correspondent here. He took a real interest in this place. But in his 2001 book on the centenary of federation, Paul mentioned New Zealand just seven times, three in connection with Gallipoli and all just fleeting, some no more than asides, one a footnote. He did not include New Zealand in Anzus and did not mention CER at all. In 1994 I suggested, when on a fellowship at Melbourne University’s Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, that it was time for an Australia-New Zealand history. In retrospect, that was fanciful.

The old saying goes: all’s fair in love and war. To go back to the title of this session, Australia will advance but on its terms. Whether that is fair to New Zealand is not a factor. That encourages New Zealand to find its own way in the world, to stay independent as it has been since the 1980s — to take the A out of Anzac.

One day in March at the Dowse Museum in Lower Hutt a boy came past wearing a T-shirt on which was written “We love some” in large letters, with, underneath in small letters “Australians”. We do love some Australians. And we love all Australians some of the time.