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  • Five reasons we wish were more like New Zealand

    • June 27, 2018
    • Neer Korn
    “While Australia seems to drag its feet and maintain a stubbornness and indifference New Zealand seems far more vocal in its response”

    For our recent study, The Who We Are Edition – Exploring Australian Identity, we asked Australians how they would describe our lifestyle to someone overseas. Their top two responses were somewhat correlated. Their most common answer, and one contrary to much of what they hear and read in the media and public debate, is that we all get along so well despite our ethnic diversity, and that we are so unlike many other nations that are filled with division and strife. And their second most frequent response? That we are a nation of fundamentally nice people with a reputation globally as being good citizens.

    But of late Australians have been feeling that we are not living up to the standard we set ourselves and have diminished those very qualities that invoke our national pride. New Zealand by contrast, a country we regard with the fondness afforded a sibling, is perceived to be way ahead of us in several areas.

    This became clear in a follow up question in that same study where we asked what they define to be unAustralian or contrary to our ethos and identity or even shameful. Many of their answers elicited just how differently they perceive New Zealand to be.

    While Australia seems to drag its feet and maintain a stubbornness and indifference New Zealand seems far more vocal in its response

    Treatment of asylum seekers

    A common answer to what they regard to be UnAustralian was our treatment of asylum seekers. It is a policy that makes Australians very uncomfortable. Theirs was a considered response, acknowledging the complexity of the issue, the impossibility of limitless open borders and the need for deterrence. Regardless, they were ashamed that Australia is treating people in this way. Locking people up in inhospitable places for years at a time and with little hope of a normal future and providing them inadequate medical facilities while doing so just seems cruel and therefore UnAustralian. We like to see ourselves as nice people, the kind that lend a hand to those in need and express generosity of spirit and finance when called upon. This is especially perturbing for those who are aware that most of the asylum seekers detained have been found to be genuine refugees. “I’m ashamed about what’s happening with refugees. It’s disgusting,” was a typical forthright comment from a young Brisbane woman.” It’s completely disgusting. I can go on and on if you would like, I could be here all night.” It is true that New Zealand has no such problem to contend with, primarily because they are shielded by the enormous expanse of land that is Australia. For their part, however, they have offered to welcome and resettle a number of those refugees languishing in Manus and Nauru, an offer Australia has turned down and a sharp contrast from our own government’s (and opposition’s) policies. Less well known is that New Zealand is considering a humanitarian visa and resettlement of climate refugees from Pacific Island countries such as the citizens of Tuvalu and Kiribati, tiny specs of islands making up nations which fear their low-lying land masses will be eliminated by rising sea levels sometime in the not too distant future. Australia rebuked a similar request, its official policy being a denial of such imminent concern. Which brings us to the next issue where New Zealand seems ahead of us.

    Recognising and doing our bit about climate change

    Australians lament that we are not at the forefront of alternative and renewable energies and that our obsession with coal appears unabated. The Coalition in particular is seen, amplified by the political right (within and outside of it) to be defiant and dragging its feet about the issue at best. Yet the natural environment, the expanse of land and sea we feel proud of and climate change is something Australians care a lot about. Even those Australians who are somewhat sceptical of the role humans play in climate change nevertheless express a desire for greater protections and action. As one study participant put it, “Everybody knows it’s an issue, they know it’s happening, but the discussion is squashed and so suppressed and sort of seen as ‘let’s not talk about it and it won’t affect us.’”

    While Australia seems to drag its feet and maintain a stubbornness and indifference New Zealand seems far more vocal in its response aiming at a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

    While we seem to blindly follow the USA, New Zealand is holding its own

    Another issue that appears to set New Zealand apart from us is our relationship with the USA. Ever since the second Gulf war – the last time Australians took to the streets in protest in significant numbers – when Australia joined the war to topple Saddam Hussein we have felt as lackeys of the USA. It’s something that leaves many Australians cringing. This is not about having a good relationship with the USA with whom Australians acknowledge we share many qualities and whose cultural influence is inescapable. Rather it’s the sense of a blind following which is construed to be a weakness or lack of confidence to forge our own identity. “When Australian politicians support United States politics then I’m not proud and I’m worried,” said one Melbourne man. “We’re like a puppet and they are pulling our strings.”

    New Zealand by contrast has long appeared to maintain greater policy independence and they seem not to have suffered any adverse consequences as a result. This was articulated by a young woman in Sydney, “We need to stand up and say, ‘Fuck off, this is what we believe, and this is what we’re doing.’ New Zealand did it. They said to the US, ‘Piss off.’ It doesn’t hurt them in the slightest.”

    We change governments and leaders while they seem stable

    Australians see our revolving door of prime ministers as an embarrassment and the overall state of politics as unAustralian. While we have seen back stabbing, leadership changes and bad blood, New Zealand’s experience appears to be in sharp contrast. While they have enjoyed the stability of one prime minister for close to a decade – and who resigned of his own accord – we had numerous leadership changes. And this despite minority governments being a norm in New Zealand. Somehow, they have been able to make it work. There is a perception that something has changed in Australia since the stability of the Hawke/Keating/Howard years. “Because the previous Prime Ministers years back, they thought of our country, they were for the country, and now they’re always fighting amongst themselves over silly things and it’s an embarrassment.”

    Overall Australians lament the state of politics and while they speak well of individual politicians the animosity and trading of barbs, as exemplified in Question Time, is seen as undignified and at odds with behaviour they espouse in their own children. “Their attitude in Question Time, you know, the carrying on and not sitting and talking about something reasonably, it’s embarrassing,” is a typical comment.

    They elected a female Prime Minister without fuss

    It irks Australians that New Zealand pipped us in giving women the vote. We did have South Australia do so on a state level, but they beat us nationally. Still we are proud of being one of the first nations to do so. What we are not proud is the misogyny that surrounded our first female prime minister. Those signs and cat calls of “ditch the witch” and labelling Julia Gillard as “Bob Brown’s Bitch” cut deeply. Especially when they appeared to be condoned by the then leader of the opposition and subsequent prime minister, Tony Abbott. Such treatment is in sharp contrast to our pride and self-perception of being a culture of acceptance. New Zealand by contrast is seen to have voted in a female prime minister without fuss. And one who was pregnant in the job no less. “I didn’t agree with Gillard’s politics,” expressed one Sydney woman, “but she was the prime minister for God’s sake, and it was so disrespectful. And it has nothing to do with her politics. It was sexism.”

    While Australians are very proud of so much about the country, it is New Zealand that currently seems to embody the values we espouse so much more than we do.

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