Why should we bother trying to catch up to Australia when we can just become Australia?
On the back of a UMR poll indicating that only a minority of respondents believe it is even worth debating a union between New Zealand and Australia, let alone actually support such a step occurring, Sir Don McKinnon went on TVNZ's Q+A programme and declared this development to be "inevitable".
I guess there's a sort of logic to it. After all, we're so bombarded with the need to "catch up to Australia" that, at some point, the easiest solution is just to become a part of it. Sure, it might not actually lead to us being any better off financially - we might just replace Tasmania as the poorest state in the Commonwealth, facing all the same problems of distance and scale we currently do - but at least we would no longer be lagging quite so far behind Australia if we drag down its overall average income!
[That said - there'd also be a certain irony in us closing the income gap with Australia by joining a nation which has pulled so far ahead of us without using the sorts of policy prescriptions Don Brash's 2025 Taskforce thinks are necessary if NZ is ever to catch up. Perhaps an even quicker way to close the gap would be for Australia to start running its economy more like we do ours?]
However, even if we accept Don McKinnon's point that our economic and social futures likely will involve forging ever greater linkages with Australia, why exactly must this translate into full political union in one nation state? And is raising the possibility a bit like pondering the All Whites' chances of raising the Jules Rimet Trophy on July 11 - sure, it could happen in theory, but I mean ... really?
Let's put aside for the moment the issue of NZ patriotism and our shoulder chip with regards our Ocker neighbours. There also is the question of whether Australia would even want to take us on. Sure, their Constitution deliberately leaves the option open - all that would be required is for Australia's Parliament to admit us and decide how much representation we'll get to have in that Parliament. But you could bet the debate across the ditch would be far less focused on formalising our historical ANZAC ties, and far more concerned with matters such as "how much will it cost us to drag the shaky isles up to our level?", and "which way might those few extra Kiwi seats in Parliament fall?"
I guess we just sort of assume that, great little people that we are, any other country would jump at the chance to have us as a part of them. But let's put it in context - how would we Kiwis react to a suggestion from Samoa that it become a full-fledged part of New Zealand? And Australia's view of New Zealand joining would be different because ...?
Second, do we need to go through with full political union to gain the sorts of advantages Don McKinnon points to as driving such a move:
I'm saying by the time the next generation comes round, technology, the movement of people everywhere, New Zealanders won't want to be in the situation of paying taxes in both countries, filing different tax returns, all the time going through Immigration and Customs, they want to try and eliminate all those things.
After all, we already have Double Tax Agreements with Australia. We're introducing automated border controls for Australian and New Zealand passport holders that reduce the time for immigration and customs procedures to 10 minutes, with promises of a common border to come.
In other words, we're already doing a lot of the things that are needed to make it easier to do business with Australia. And yes, while this involves a certain diminution of our national sovereignty, it hardly requires us to join them as a seventh state.
Nor do I think that such moves will "inevitably" elide the differences between the nations to such an extent that we just fall into bed with each other. I mean, the European Union project has tied european nations ever closer together for some fifty years now, but I still can't see the Dutch and the Germans uniting under one national flag. Equally, look at the United Kingdom and the process of devolution of authority to national legislatures in Scotland and Wales. Even after some 300 years of "union", the claims of nationalism and cultural identity continue to run strong.
The point is that while the pressures of globalisation are forcing nations to adopt ever more unified forms of regulation - with closer relations between New Zealand and Australia being but one example - there remain strong claims of particularism and national difference that push us apart. These aren't inconsequential or silly matters, as Paul Holmes seemed to suggest in the Q + A interview. They are every bit as real as the material benefits that proponents of Australian statehood dangle before us.
And I'm betting they keep us apart from Australia for a good wee while longer than the "next generation" that Don McKinnon thinks is going to take us into a trans-Tasman union.