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.

Comments (13)

by stuart munro on March 16, 2010
stuart munro

Becoming part of Australia would of course entail becoming a state, and reducing MP numbers accordingly.  Most MPs having no other significant skill sets (excluding fraud), they can be expected to fight for our independence as quixotically as Michael Laws fights for Fonganui's freedom from unvoiced Hs.

The more serious issue is of civil service flight. 40% of NZ's GDP is spent in Wellington, substantially to no good end. But the loss of cash flow would cripple the city, and reduce its intellectual pretensions to the level of Auckland - which is to say, to the pre-literate level.

On the bright side, Oz has oil -and jobs. NZ, thanks to thirty years of accumulated gross neglect, has neither.

by Graeme Edgeler on March 16, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

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 ...?

Let's see ... we have mutual recognition and CER which gives citizens of both countries the rights of permanent residency in the other - Rights which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders living in Australia, and which give any Australian so inclined and on holiday in New Zealand for a couple of months before our election the right to vote.

When Falema'i Lesa won in the Privy Council, we passed the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act.

So, somewhat differently, then.

Stuart - why would we reduce MP numbers? The Parliament of NSW has 135 members, Victoria has 128, WA 95, Queensland 85, and SA 69. 120 is near the higher end, but it doesn't seem too out of place...

by Andrew Geddis on March 16, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Graeme,

Fair point. But you're wrong in your claim that CER "give[s] any Australian so inclined and on holiday in New Zealand for a couple of months before our election the right to vote." You've overlooked the Electoral Act 1993, s.74(1)(b) ... they also need to have at some time lived continuously in New Zealand for not less than one year.

by BigCake on March 16, 2010
BigCake

I liked Mike Moore's response to the idea - “Toughen up. We will not solve our economic problems by becoming a state or two states of Australia."

So we just need to get on with it, walking on our own 2 feet. However, getting a bit of a pull along by Australia on occasion (eg. lowering business barriers) is a good thing.

by stuart munro on March 16, 2010
stuart munro

@ Graeme why would we reduce MP numbers?

For the same reason any failing enterprise removes non-performing managers. 30 years ago we led Australia, now at best we aspire to emigrate.

NZ is no longer an aspirational country - led by a corrupt gaggle of false economists, and critiqued by a cynical and self -serving elite, it continues to fail on every significant social indice.

NZ's best hope for the future is a Tsunami drowning every worthless parasite in Wellington, and a new administration, dedicated to building and rebuilding.

Moore is right (probably a first). NZ should solve our own problems. But given the quality and dedication of our leadership, our best course remains to beg the crumbs that fall from the transtasman table - New Zealand's leaders have abandonded us to poverty, idleness and vice. And where was Moore writing from, do you suppose? He has an academic position in Australia.

by Graeme Edgeler on March 16, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Oh, there are certainly arguments for reducing MP numbers, or changing them 'round.  You seemed to say that becoming part of Australia would entail becoming a state, and reducing MP numbers.

if you're not saying they're linked, just that they are two things we should do, I don't have a particular issue with your reasoning. I just didn't see how it would automatically follow from our joining Australia as a state, that we'd reduce the number of MPs.

And where was Moore writing from, do you suppose?

He was speaking from an Auckland TV studio.

by Andrew Geddis on March 16, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Stuart,

NZ's best hope for the future is a Tsunami drowning every worthless parasite in Wellington, and a new administration, dedicated to building and rebuilding.

Gosh - will my two sisters, their husbands, and my neices (5 and 3 years old) also have to die to achieve your bright new future? If so, you'll forgive me if I don't share in your hopes.

by Claire Browning on March 16, 2010
Claire Browning

Hey, steady on Stuart - it's me speaking, one of your favourite (?) pundits, sitting here on reclaimed land, looking out at Wellington harbour - from the 19th floor, mind you. Good enough in a tsunami probably, not so great in the quake.

by stuart munro on March 16, 2010
stuart munro

Andrew, if you can find a way to delouse Wellington without increasing innocent suffering, I will be interested to hear it.

Claire, unhappily, the tsunami and the earthquake tend to go together.

All of which tends to support Jones & Olken's findings in Hit or Miss. At least it has the virtue of targeting.

 

by Andrew Geddis on March 16, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Stuart,

You are tipping over from trenchant criticism of our political leaders into slightly creepy territory. Maybe dial it back a bit?

by stuart munro on March 16, 2010
stuart munro

Oh what does it matter? The arrogant little fools never pay any attention or even try to do their jobs. Why show them courtesy or restraint? They never show us any. New Zealand is in astonishingly worse shape than the country I grew up in. Do we see anything resembling a sane reaction at high levels? Nope - only the usual bromides and excuses.

 

by Tim Watkin on March 16, 2010
Tim Watkin

Stuart, you're right to say that 30 years ago we led Australia, but it's a little harsh to put our slide since then entirely on the politicians' shoulders. Well, they deserve a fair bit of grief actually, but from the wool crisis in the late '60s through Britain's choice to enter the EU to Australia's mineral boom, you can't pin it all on them.

And you're flat wrong on two counts. We've got stacks of oil and New Zealand remains aspirational on many, many fronts.

by stuart munro on March 17, 2010
stuart munro

Our oil is in unproven and untapped reserves - a commodity as dependable as election promises. If not developed by a state corporation, the profit will go directly overseas, the jobs will go to 3rd nations workers and NZ will receive at best 1-2% on the dollar in royalties.

And it was in the name of a self-professed economic expertise that Labour corrupted itself, and that National sold everything that wasn't screwed down, and unscrewed everything that was. With the fallacy of the perfect market hypothesis demonstrated in practice, and to ruinous effect around the world, these know-nothing folk, who always knew better than us, their constituents and masters, should have their pay and benefits slashed, and be required to produce regular and coherent recovery plans that do not depend on miraculous intervention by free maket forces. That dangerous fallacy has done quite enough damage.

An MPs duty is to their people, not to an imaginary constituency of foreign investors who can be invented to justify any failure of duty - and who, if they were actually real, would need to demonstrate significant benefits to NZ before their sociopathic preferences should be even considered.

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