Re­assess­ing our place in the world

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

As a strong be­liever that New Zealand can of­ten learn a lot from look­ing across the Tas­man, just over a year ago I vis­ited Aus­tralia to get a sense of how our neigh­bour sees its re­la­tion­ship with Asia.

On my re­turn, I wrote a col­umn say­ing that I was con­cerned about how po­larised the dis­cus­sion had be­come, par­tic­u­larly when it came to China. The pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion had be­come par­tic­u­larly heated af­ter an ABC Four Cor­ners episode that ex­am­ined Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party in­flu­ence in Aus­tralian pol­i­tics.

In that col­umn, I sug­gested the types of con­ver­sa­tions that were be­ing had over there could even­tu­ally cross the Tas­man. And that has cer­tainly been the case. We’ve started to see a sharper and more pub­lic dis­cus­sion about what New Zealand might want its re­la­tion­ship with China to look like. And we know sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions have been tak­ing place in other coun­tries.

A few weeks ago, I re­turned to Aus­tralia for an up­date and met with coun­ter­part agen­cies, think tanks, aca­demics and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. I ar­rived just a few days af­ter Scott Mor­ri­son as­sumed of­fice as prime min­is­ter.

It is fair to say that in­sta­bil­ity in Aus­tralia’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics has also put the coun­try in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion in its in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment. The diplo­matic re­al­ity is that po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of­ten need to be the ones who make ad­just­ments or re­pairs to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships – but the at­ten­tion of re­cent Aus­tralian lead­ers has, un­der­stand­ably, been do­mes­ti­cally fo­cused. (As a side note, Mor­ri­son’s first over­seas visit was to In­done­sia, con­sis­tent with that of other prime min­is­ters, and he came back with a new free trade deal.)

From the con­ver­sa­tions I had, I got the sense that some of the heat had gone out of the dis­cus­sion about ex­ter­nal in­flu­ence ac­tiv­i­ties in Aus­tralia, but per­haps that was be­cause views on ei­ther end of the spec­trum have be­come more en­trenched. Po­si­tions are now clearly staked out.

I no­ticed an in­creased fo­cus on the need to broaden and deepen re­la­tion­ships with a range of Asian coun­tries – Aus­tralia is cer­tainly not unique in that re­gard. While ‘‘busi­ness’’ is good, the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and Aus­tralia seems to have lost some of the shine it en­joyed for sev­eral decades.

Since re­turn­ing from Aus­tralia, I’ve been mulling over some of the more con­tentious top­ics get­ting me­dia cov­er­age here in New Zealand. Along­side the what-to-do-with-our-sur­plus dis­cus­sion, some of the is­sues have been pretty chal­leng­ing ones: free­dom of speech; cor­rup­tion in busi­ness and pol­i­tics; im­mi­gra­tion abuses; who New Zealand’s ‘‘friends’’ over­seas re­ally are.

We’re hear­ing more voices rais­ing ques­tions about what New Zealand might need to do to strengthen its abil­ity to pro­tect the prin­ci­ples that un­der­pin our democ­racy. Th­ese voices are talk­ing about civics, in­clud­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ci­ti­zen­ship, res­i­dency and vot­ing rights; the fund­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties; and me­dia free­dom is­sues, to name a few.

Per­haps it’s a sign of the times that New Zealand is not alone in th­ese sorts of con­ver­sa­tions. While many New Zealan­ders can find such top­ics un­com­fort­able, they aren’t in them­selves bad things.

Th­ese sorts of is­sues gen­er­ally take a back seat to more im­me­di­ate con­cerns for most of us, like the cost of petrol, meet­ing mort­gage pay­ments, or eat­ing five-plus-a-day. But the world around New Zealand is chang­ing at pace.

It’s not as if New Zealan­ders don’t have a sense of what’s im­por­tant; as a coun­try we’ve spent a lot of blood and trea­sure de­fend­ing what we see as im­por­tant to us.

As we move to ar­tic­u­late our po­si­tion on th­ese is­sues, it is key that we don’t fall for dog whis­tles or let a few voices dom­i­nate dis­cus­sions. Th­ese top­ics are ones that all New Zealan­ders, in­clud­ing those read­ing the busi­ness pages, need to have their voice heard on. It’s too im­por­tant not to en­gage.

When it comes to what New Zealan­ders en­joy so­cially, cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally, I would ar­gue against the view that New Zealand is a ‘‘lucky coun­try’’. Our so-called luck has come off the back of some brave and im­por­tant de­ci­sions we’ve made; de­ci­sions based on ro­bust and some­times dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.