His­to­rian and for­mer Wal­la­bies player Peter FitzSi­mons claims NZ is ‘lap­ping’ Aus­tralia in ’pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics’.

The Timaru Herald - - TECHNOLOGY&SCIENCE -

Strange days in­deed, most pe­cu­liar, Mama. Back in the day, on Wal­laby and Waratah tours to New Zealand in the ’80s and early ’90s, we used to sneer a lit­tle un­pleas­antly about how . . . you know... pro­vin­cial the Ki­wis were. I mean, nice peo­ple and all, so long as they’re not dressed all in black, wear­ing foot­ball boots and com­ing at you like herd of mad­dened bulls, but we had no doubt that, even as foot­ballers for Gawd’s sake, we were the so­phis­ti­cates in the piece.

We were from Aus­tralia, you see, and were just so far ahead of them all in every field we could think of, bar the rugby field! But, bit by bit, things changed and it was the Ki­wis who took in the lead on so many mat­ters of progress.

At the 1999 World Cup, when the All Blacks sang their na­tional an­them, they sang the first verse in Maori, and the prac­tice took off soon af­ter­wards, em­braced by the whole pop­u­la­tion. Their racial pol­i­tics is one where in­clu­sion and in­te­gra­tion are the shared goals of all races.

Not long af­ter­wards, Maori Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice was es­tab­lished, a TV net­work de­voted to the pro­mo­tion of the Maori lan­guage and cul­ture, af­ter le­gal ac­tion was suc­cess­fully taken forc­ing the gov­ern­ment’s hand, on the grounds that un­der the Treaty of Wai­tangi 1840, the Bri­tish colonists had promised to pre­serve Maori cul­ture. They have a treaty. It is taken se­ri­ously, and guides them.

Then, when the Iraq War was about to get un­der­way in 2003, our prime min­is­ter, John Howard made clear from the first, that Aus­tralia stood shoul­der to shoul­der with Amer­ica.

Their prime min­is­ter He­len Clark said, "We stand shoul­der to shoul­der with the United Na­tions."

The Ki­wis had the courage to forge a for­eign pol­icy a lot more so­phis­ti­cated than, "We say what Amer­ica says, only we say it dou­ble, hear?"

Then, fast for­ward to the Auck­land Writ­ers Fes­ti­val two years ago. I was on stage be­ing in­ter­viewed about my book on Gal­lipoli by the long-time Kiwi break­fast TV host, Ali­son Mau, who in the course of our con­ver­sa­tion men­tioned she was en­gaged to marry her gor­geous part­ner Kar­leen. As one, the 2000 Ki­wis in the the­atre started cheer­ing and stomp­ing their feet.

Hang on, I yelled. I am from Aus­tralia! Don’t you poor back­ward bas­tards know the dan­gers of same-sex mar­riage? Don’t you know that that this is a very slip­pery slope you are on? Don’t you know that peo­ple will soon start to marry bridges, marry chil­dren, marry sheep – oh, wait – and that ev­ery­thing will soon go to hell in a hand­cart?

They sneered un­pleas­antly at my back­ward­ness. They were Ki­wis. They knew that same-sex mar­riage had none of the hor­rors back­wards Australian com­men­ta­tors had been bang­ing on about, and sim­ply couldn’t un­der­stand how a coun­try like ours could have fallen so far be­hind them.

(Me nei­ther. Don’t get me started.)

Not long af­ter­wards, their fine con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter John Key had the courage to say out loud that hav­ing the Union Jack – the most fa­mous sym­bol of an­other na­tion – as the pri­mary sym­bol on their own Kiwi flag, was, you know, a bit on the an­ti­quated side of things? And yes, the sub­se­quent ref­er­en­dum on flag change didn’t get up, but only be­cause of the lack of an al­ter­na­tive that gripped their na­tional imag­i­na­tion. (We, at least, have the Eu­reka flag to in­spire us, when the time comes.) The point is, they had a ra­tio­nal dis­cus­sion on the whole thing, and even if it didn’t get up this time, the whole thing moved for­wards.

And most re­cently, of course, they have just elected a 37-year-old woman as the third fe­male Kiwi PM, Jacinda Ardern, who has been an in­ter­na­tional breath of fresh air in pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, and not just be­cause she talks about NZ be­ing a re­pub­lic, out loud. She has pointed to­wards a proud, in­de­pen­dent, path for New Zealand. She treats climate change se­ri­ously, in a coun­try where no one se­ri­ous dis­putes climate change and the need to re­duce emis­sions. She has called out Aus­tralia’s treat­ment of refugees on Manus Is­land for what it is: un­ac­cept­able. Just last week it was an­nounced that ref­er­ences to both Je­sus and the Queen have been re­moved from Par­lia­ment’s te reo karakia, or prayer. I think it might be some­thing about ac­cept­ing that not all Ki­wis are Chris­tians or monar­chists, you know?

You get the drift. On every front of pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics that you can see, the Ki­wis are lap­ping us! Did you hear me, tree peo­ple? I said, the KI­WIS are lap­ping us!

They are the so­phis­ti­cates. We are the provin­cials. How did this hap­pen? Jacinda Ardern’s For­eign Min­is­ter, the re­doubtable Win­ston Peters, is my friend. "A key part," he tells me over the phone from Fiji, "is our MMP pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem, which we have had since 1996. This al­lows for a di­ver­sity of po­lit­i­cal voices to be heard, and a di­ver­sity of pol­i­tics to be rep­re­sented. It is in­clu­sive. There are not just two main voices, there are many. It works for us. When I was elected to Par­lia­ment, there were just four Maori in par­lia­ment. We now form 24 per cent. The sys­tem fos­ters pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics."

My long­time Kiwi col­league at The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, Bernard La­gan, now a cor­re­spon­dent for the Lon­don Times – has some the­o­ries.

"It is multi-faceted," he says, "but if you go back to the sink­ing of the Rain­bow War­rior in 1985, the gov­ern­ment of David Lange in the 1980s forg­ing an in­de­pen­dent path, and the Amer­i­cans try­ing to bully NZ back into the fold, you see a na­tional rise of so­cial ac­tivism on a broad front, and we have never looked back. And it also helps that we don’t have a very loud, hardright me­dia here, which gives space for pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics to grow. "

The heavy­weight New Zealand po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Richard Har­man dates the seeds of New Zealand’s so­cial pro­gres­sivism back even fur­ther: "Ever since we had the Australian-born Prime Min­is­ter Michael Joseph Sav­age, who led a very suc­cess­ful re­formist gov­ern­ment from 1935, New Zealand has fan­cied it­self as a so­cial lab­o­ra­tory. We haven’t been afraid to try new things. And yes, David Lange was a spur to that pro­gres­sivism, then re­tarded by the gov­ern­ment of Sir Robert Mul­doon, but we re­ally haven’t looked back since. From our side of the Tas­man, we can’t quite un­der­stand why Aus­tralia is so far be­hind. On same-sex mar­riage for ex­am­ple, we just don’t see, why you don’t get it. No-one here can un­der­stand what the fuss is about."

Richard? It’s a long story. But things, we can tell you, are pretty bloody grim when we have to look to your side of the ditch for in­spi­ra­tion.

Carry on. We shall be along in a lit­tle while.

PHOTO: ERIK DE CASTROHEY/REUTERS

New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern waves to stu­dent dancers as she ar­rives at the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Sum­mit in the north­ern Philip­pines this week. Coluimnist Peter FitzSi­mons calls her a an in­ter­na­tional breath of fresh air in pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics.

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