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New Zealand: Different, in important ways

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COMMENTS

7 December 2010 16:28

Dr Andrew Butcher is Director of Policy and Research at the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

As Malcolm Cook argued in his Asia-New Zealand Foundation report, there is much more that divides Australia and New Zealand than the Tasman Sea. My colleague Brittany Chellew and I recently spent a week in Australia talking to people in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, and we identified some further dividing lines.

First, New Zealand's Asian populations are proportionately greater than Australia's (11% compared to 5%) and have a much bigger impact, I'd suggest, on its foreign relations. Witness the outcry – and subsequent diplomatic apology – over TVNZ Breakfast show presenter Paul Henry's remarks about an Indian Commonwealth Games official and his questioning of whether New Zealand's Governor General, Auckland-born Sir Anand Satyanand, who is of Fijian-Indian ethnicity, was really a New Zealander.

Henry resigned (under duress) and the debate about the changing face of New Zealand was reignited once more. With 40% of its population immigrants, Auckland may represent the 'future face' of New Zealand as its most 'super-diverse' city. New Zealand's debate about its national identity and its place in the world is shaped by its rapidly ethnically diversifying population. 

Second, New Zealand's interactions with Asia are of a different order and form. Indonesia doesn't feature for New Zealand as it does for Australia. And New Zealand cuddles closer with China than Australia does, demonstrated best by the NZ-China FTA (and the absence of an Australia-China FTA, despite China being Australia's number one trading partner). Some Australians we spoke with thought New Zealand perhaps cuddled a little too closely to China; others, in the same breath, thought New Zealand should strengthen further its relationship with ASEAN.

Third, the thawing of the US-NZ relationship was noted approvingly by many we spoke to. The US relationship has been one of the clearest dividing lines in foreign and defence policies between Australia and New Zealand. And while ANZUS will not be resurrected in its original form, the signals from Wellington underlined a further perception from Australia that the US is working hard to get back into the Asia-Pacific.

There were a variety of other admiring comments about New Zealand: about its climate change policy, its multilateral relations generally and the ease with which things get done in a country with only 4.5 million people and less bureaucracy. New Zealand's government has said its wants to 'catch up with Australia', but for many we spoke to, New Zealand was already ahead of the game. Cook's analysis was right: we are both standing together in single file after all.

Still, in much of Asia, Australia and New Zealand are treated as one (especially in regional security architecture) even though we sometimes sing quite different tunes. Yet most recognise that both countries, ultimately, sing from the same songbook. Since forging our common past at Gallipoli, we have taken divergent routes. But both of our futures are in Asia.

Photo by Flickr user 123_456.

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