Quarterly Essay 80, by Laura Tingle, is about political leadership and cultural change, explored through the lens of what Australia can learn from New Zealand rather than turning its cheek and assuming its taking the high road.
Despite both Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern both leading countries through the global COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, the differences in leadership and response has been stark. Tingle argues that we don’t look to New Zealand as a strategic partner often enough, and we tend to overlook them as an example to follow.
Tingle explores the parallel development of Australia and New Zealand, what unites our countries, what doesn’t, and where we have deviated from each other significantly.
As part of the ANZAC tradition, Tingle asserts (which could be a surprise to many Australians) that New Zealanders feel Australians have hijacked ANZAC, and actually feel quite bitter about it.
New Zealand has a far better history with its indigenous Maori than Australia has with Aboriginals, beginning first with the Treaty of Waitangi. Whilst the Treaty was often disregarded in early days, most Maori clans have now been financially compensated and apologised to for the breaches of the Treaty. New Zealand also embraces the Maori language and culture in its schools, sport, politics and pride – all of which areas Australia lacks.
New Zealand has approached its government and taxes differently, and has often taken a strong moral stand against larger nations ,such as not allowing US nuclear ships to visit while Australia did. New Zealand did not support the War on Terror in Afghanistan, and did not join the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq in 2003 because they believed there was insufficient evidence to invade. New Zealand has also had a better record of its treatment of asylum seekers than Australia, and has made far more advances with its policy on climate change.
The essay also explores the politics in New Zealand that resulted in enabling such a person as Ardern to join and succeed. She is a rarity in politics – people think she’s actually nice and kind. She has introduced a “Wellbeing Budget” to New Zealand, and she is extremely transparent about decision making – voluntarily and pre-emptively making official cabinet papers and briefing notes publicly available, particularly during the 2020 pandemic decisions.
Another important different is that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire does not control the national media debate in New Zealand.
This is a really interesting historical, economic and moral analysis … but there are no suggestions or recommendations about what needs to change in Australia and what we can actually apply from these learnings.