They’re just not that into us

New Zealand Listener - - EDITORIAL -

Mod­ern dat­ing ar­got has the best de­scrip­tion of what the New Zealand-Aus­tralia re­la­tion­ship ought to be: friends with ben­e­fits. At least, that’s what we al­ways thought this side of the Tas­man. Now the truth could hardly be more stark: Aus­tralia’s just not that into us. Its de­ci­sion to slap full user-pays on New Zealand ter­tiary stu­dents is the lat­est in a se­ries of moves that we can’t help but see as hostile. Sum­mary de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tion of New Zealand res­i­dents who have served criminal sen­tences, sci­en­tif­i­cally un­jus­ti­fied bans on our ap­ples, new cit­i­zen­ship bar­ri­ers, open crit­i­cism of our for­eign pol­icy – the one af­front we can be sure wasn’t de­lib­er­ate is Aus­tralia’s ex­port of myr­tle rust.

It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing the only as­pect of our sup­posed spe­cial re­la­tion­ship that’s ac­tu­ally writ­ten down is the Closer Eco­nomic Re­la­tions trade deal. Every­thing else has been as­sumed or, as it’s turned out, over-ro­man­ti­cised on this side of the bro­mance.

More un­friend­ings are to come. Aus­tralia is con­sid­er­ing school charges for Kiwi stu­dents, which would strike at the heart of transtas­man mo­bil­ity.

While all of this hurts and galls, it’s im­por­tant to di­vorce our nat­u­ral ten­dency to­ward mu­tual ri­valry and ­rib­bing from the equa­tion. This is all about Aus­tralian do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. Mal­colm Turn­bull’s Ad­min­is­tra­tion is strug­gling, po­lit­i­cally and fis­cally. Pe­nal­is­ing New Zealand res­i­dents is a handy and pop­u­lar way to ease both prob­lems. Many ­Aussies aren’t thrilled about “bloody Kay­ways” muscling in on their jobs. That many are brown sadly un­der­pins the po­lit­i­cal im­pe­tus. Few votes are put at risk by mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for im­mi­grants in Aus­tralia.

And while we mourn this be­trayal of our pre­cious An­zac bond, Britain, too, has ap­plied a steely lack of sen­ti­ment in peel­ing back spe­cial treat­ment of erst­while spe­cial friends. When Theresa May be­came Home Sec­re­tary, our Gov­ern­ment tried to re­lit­i­gate new lim­its on young Ki­wis’ work­ing hol­i­days in Britain, but our re­minder of our spe­cial re­la­tion­ship fell on pro­foundly deaf ears. Now May is Prime Min­is­ter, we must sim­ply take a num­ber in the global queue.

We are no longer spe­cial to Aus­tralia or Britain – if we ever were as spe­cial as we imag­ined. Yet Aus­tralians mov­ing to New Zealand have rights far ahead of any other res­i­dents be­side our favoured Pasi­fika. They can im­me­di­ately claim a full range of so­cial ser­vices, from free health and ed­u­ca­tion to wel­fare ­ben­e­fits, and vote af­ter a year.

In stark con­trast, New Zealan­ders in Aus­tralia get few spe­cial rights, but are a net ben­e­fit to the Aus­tralian econ­omy. Ev­ery New Zealan­der liv­ing there must ei­ther be self-sup­port­ing, or have fam­ily up­keep. We are not a bur­den on our neigh­bour but a con­trib­u­tor. What­ever hap­pened to no tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion?

While there’s some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Aus­tralia’s ­ag­gres­sive de­por­ta­tion of New Zealand-born felons, it has a cal­lous and down­right ir­re­spon­si­ble un­der­belly, given many de­por­tees were Aus­tralian-raised. Aus­tralia crim­i­nalised them, yet it’s happy to dump them back here, vir­tual strangers, likely to re­of­fend with­out so­cial sup­port.

Friends do not do this to friends. We don’t even do this to coun­tries we’re not so keen on. But how to re­spond to this be­trayal?

It’s tempt­ing to re­tal­i­ate in kind, strip­ping Aus­tralians of equiv­a­lent rights this side of the Ditch. Why turn the other cheek? Although this would be mere pocket change now, New ­Zealand is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive to ­dis­con­tented Aus­tralians.

But therein lies the an­swer: liv­ing well is the best re­venge. We are beat­ing Aus­tralia not just in eco­nomic per­for­mance but in less tan­gi­ble life­style fac­tors, not least so­cial co­he­sion. And that comes in no small mea­sure be­cause we are an inclusive so­ci­ety. We have worked hard to be­come both bi- and multi-cul­tural, and we con­tin­u­ally strive to do both bet­ter. Aus­tralia still strug­gles to em­brace ei­ther am­bi­tion.

We don’t lock up refugees – at all, let alone in­def­i­nitely.

Our politi­cians ac­tively dis­cour­age racism. We do not have ­Ban­tus­tan-es­que back­wa­ters full of drunk and ­de­spair­ing ­in­dige­nous peo­ple. Where Maori are fall­ing be­hind, we ­ac­knowl­edge it as a na­tional shame and strive for reme­dies.

What’s more, we have plenty of wa­ter. When cli­mate change makes Aus­tralia less hos­pitable, we should stand ready to ­wel­come its refugees with un­abated gen­eros­ity – and gen­tly smil­ing jaws. Af­ter all, their re-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme will re­quire much tough love.

New Zealan­ders in Aus­tralia get few spe­cial rights, but are a net ben­e­fit to the Aus­tralian econ­omy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.