Lessons from Europe and Singapore


Over the next few articles, I am going to share with you a few things I learnt whilst overseas. I had experiences that helped to enrich my understanding of the world around me and realize that whilst New Zealand does very well in many aspects of life, there are some we can learn from – and can teach others about.

I have just returned from four weeks in Europe, during which time I visited the U.K., Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and had a brief foray into northern France. Aside from having a nice holiday and test driving some very nice Belgian beer and comparing our drinking habits with theirs (another article) and seeing all sorts of fascinating tourist attractions.

On the way back to New Zealand I stopped for a few days in Singapore for my first visit there. It was a chance to see how an island city state of 5 million people – all of New Zealand’s population and about another 900,000 people on top of that – get on. I will focus on  tourism, which is the core of Singapore’s economy and examine the challenges and opportunities that such a small nation faces.

Over the course of the articles I will cover public transport in major cities, as I stayed in several large European cities. They included London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Gothenburg. I will explore the tourism industries in these locations, where tourism has been a thing for periods of time longer than European knowledge of New Zealand’s existence. I will also explore living, as time was also spent staying in rented apartments in Brugge and Ypres.

 

Australian leadership rumble possibly good for New Zealand


Yesterday in Canberra, Australia, there was a leadership rumble in the governing Liberal National Party coalition. Incumbent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was assailed by former Minister of , Peter Dutton, over his failure to grasp the real aims and objectives of the National Energy Guarantee. It came as after 38 consecutive polls showed the persistent gap between the Australian Labor Party and Liberal/National Party only succeeding in growing – the A.L.P. on 55% and able to comfortably govern; the Liberal Nationals on 45% and probably wondering how to safely and cleanly dispose of Mr Turnbull’s political carcass.

So, what would it mean if Australia had another rumble and it resulted in a Labor-led coalition? The LIberal National Party would have some seriously huge questions to answer both to the Opposition, but also the Australian voting public. Such as:

  1. Few in Australia now seem to have any confidence in a Government iinvolving individual  Peter Dutton or Tony Abbott – two mean who seem to have scant regard for the nature of federal governance
  2. If the Turnbull Government falls, will there be the risk of others such as Fraser Anning, with openly hostile views towards minorities, trying to take over
  3. Is Bill Shorten fit to be Prime Minister of a country that is increasingly clearly saying “Go” to Malcolm Turnbull, should Labor win an election or will Tanya Pilbersek take over before then?

These questions are important, but I don not think that Australia can solve this identity crisis it is having without exploring a much bigger problem: Labor and the Liberals have become so much like the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Fighting each other just for the sake of fighting each other, with almost toxic levels of contempt. Unable and unwilling to admit sometimes one party or the other may have better legislation.

I have already explained how the arrival of more refugees is not likely to cause adverse effects in New Zealand. I have also in the past explained how we have one of the best screening programmes in the west for newly arriving refugees and asylum seekers.

Also, the Australian leadership as it currently stands is non-compatible with New Zealand on a range of issues, from refugees and climate change to national security. The idea that has been floated that Australia should actively contribute to the armaments industry world wide by manufacturing and exporting armaments to whomever if it means jobs for Australia is fundamentally flawed. If this goes from being a daft idea on a back room whiteboard to being reality, it also puts a withering glare on the larger A.N.Z.A.C. identity that the two countries share.

New Zealanders in Australia are known to have it tough. Whereas other nations have clear paths to permanent residency or citizenship Australia does not have one for New Zealanders, thereby depriving New Zealanders living there a host of rights that go to Australian citizens, and nationalities of other countries where this is possible.

No one said murder or any other serious criminal offence is okay, but deporting people not originally from Australia back to where they came from is not okay if their lives are in danger. It is not okay, if that nation is recovering from a major disaster, to lump it with people who are Australian citizens because of some random isolated event in their past. So to deport people who have lived in Australia for nearly their entire life, and know nothing about New Zealand, have any connections there or support threatens to make already unstable people into time bombs.

Abandoning any effort at all to make good on Australia’s climate change commitments under the Paris Accord does not just undermine Australia, but also those nations that are trying to up hold their commitments.

I do not know whether the Australian Government of Malcolm Turnbull will fall. It might survive somehow to the next election, but its inability to do anything constructive for both Australia or the international community at large makes me doubt that its eventual demise will be a bad thing.

Certainly not to New Zealand.

Why New Zealand needs to condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights record


This blog was going to be about the detention of female Saudi Arabian activists making a stand for women and a call to petition Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters to speak out. But the same country deciding it is okay to attack a bus full of civilians and the fact that this is a war crime, forced a change.

Saudi Arabia is a country that has long shown open disdain for human rights. It regards them as a “western” concept, perhaps because much human rights law was developed in the West. But western or not, there is nothing humane or proper about attacking civilian targets.

A country that attacks a civilian bus, killing dozens of people including numerous children as Saudi Arabia did a few days ago and thinks that such conduct would horrify many New Zealanders. A country that uses military grade munitions and delivery systems to destroy hospitals, homes and schools would horrify New Zealanders.

It should also horrify people to know that two nations we respect and admire are supplying Saudi Arabia with those munitions and delivery systems. Their names are Britain and United States of America. Both have supplied combat jets and cluster munitions, despite these being subject to international bans – which notably none of the United Nations Security Council permanent five members have recognized, lest it jeopardize the lucrative sale of weapons.

In his valedictory speech as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower made mention of the potential threat posed by the military industrial complex. That was in 1961. It was before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Exercise Able Archer 1983, a host of wars where one could argue the main reasons for having them were nothing to do with national security, humanitarian emergencies or caused by internal strife. What would the former President think today if he could see the current orgy of violence and in particular America and Britain’s role in arming the combatants?

But those nations are not New Zealand. Those nations are not a country in the southwest Pacific with a record of defending human rights.

New Zealand needs to make stand against the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia. Our trade is not so great that we should suffer a crippling blow if the Kingdom throws a diplomatic hissy fit – noting the recall of their Ambassador to Canada, and expulsion of Canada’s Ambassador for having the gonads to tell Saudi Arabia imprisoning female activists is not acceptable conduct. Our reputation for being a nation that champions a fair go and common decency will certainly not suffer from having a bit of steel in our spine.

New Zealand had opportunities to condemn earlier actions by Saudi Arabia that involved war crimes in Yemen. It has had opportunities to speak against the imprisonment of and flogging of activists such as Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 were struck before human rights activism brought enough pressure on Saudi Arabia to desist (so far)in carrying out any further. Unfortunately under the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, securing trade deals was a higher priority than protecting universal human rights.

If Canada stands alone, Saudi Arabia will assume that it is just one country that is annoyed. But if others including, but not limited to New Zealand join in the Kingdom will see that – whether they acknowledge it or not, being something altogether different – war crimes and any other illegal war like acts are not okay.

As for stopping Britain and the U.S. from supplying more weapons to cause more civilian deaths, tragically that is probably going to take them being referred for war crimes to the Hague and a change of Government in both countries.

 

Government cleaning out non performing diplomats


The Government is set to announce a clean out of diplomats from New Zealand’s overseas missions. The announcement comes at a critical time as New Zealand attempts to adjust the country to an unsettled geopolitical environment created by Brexit, the divisive nature of current American politics, capped off by high international tensions with Iran.

One of the diplomats being pulled is Tim Groser, current ambassador to the United States. Mr Groser, prior to going to the United States was Minister for Trade in the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key. In that capacity Mr Groser was tasked with pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to a fruitful conclusion. It was under Mr Groser’s watch that the many major concerns about the T.P.P.A. became known to the public and the beginning of the backlash occurred.

Mr Groser’s time in Washington D.C. does not appear to have been overly successful. Indeed one insider admitted that during his ambassadorship, the residency of the New Zealand ambassador has been “party central”, with numerous functions and parties hosted.

Mr Groser is not the only diplomat being recalled.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters believes that the idea of political appointments to the diplomatic posts is not a good look and not in New Zealand’s interests to continue. Mr Peters views Mr Groser as a political appointment because it was made by the previous National Government when Mr Key was still in office.

There are other key diplomatic posts opening up, including one in Dublin. This is a well sought after post because among other boards, it is home to the International Rugby Board, as politicians it was noted in the Government of Mr Key love to be seen with rugby royalty.

Mr Peters said that the Washington post is just one of many being reviewed and necessary recalled by the new Government. Others include a possible posting to London.

I believe that New Zealand needs to put more focus on building diplomatic ties with African and Latin American countries more than anywhere else. Neither of these two regions is very well understood by New Zealand, despite growing communities of Latin American nationalities and African nationalities in the country. Aside from sharing New Zealand’s wariness of war, Latin America also offer opportunities in trade and have been one of the few international bright spots in the last few years with the end of the Colombian civil war. And Africa, for all its mystery, remains the least understood part of the world in just about all respects. Trying to better understand this continent of mystery when some Governments take an ivory tower view of thinking they know best, when they do not, is not only a really good idea, it is essential.

Potential Brexit trade war bad for New Zealand


Fears are growing that a messy Brexit dissolution of the United Kingdom’s union with Europe could lead to open trade hostilities between the two parties. So great is the fear that Minister of Trade, David Parker, warned the United Kingdom and European Union against commencing trade hostilities.

Trade hostilities do no country any favours. They are the war like equivalent of two countries vying for some sort of supremacy or other advantage, except that tariffs take the place of bullets with exporters and importers being the casualties in the front line. And behind the front line, you and myself, the regular civilian consumers who can only make the best of the market conditions of the day as they can try, are the real losers. With increased costs passed on by importers, they will be more selective as to when they get out the EFTPOS card or the credit card or hard earned money that they will want to know is well spent.

The increasingly messy dissolution of the union between the U.K. and Europe as a result of the 2016 referendum has alarmed many. It stems from the desire of the two parties to divide up tariff rate quotas on agricultural products, The concerns are that this would have a negative impact on how New Zealand meat, butter and cheese gets into the E.U.

In a world with a slowing economy being buffeted by increasingly stormy conditions that exporters and importers have little say over what looks like an increasingly worrisome storm. The combination of E.U. discontent, high petrol prices due to increasing angst over the Iran deal and the desire of the U.S. and Israel to possibly launch military action against the Islamic Republic, to say nothing of a failure to address the causes of the last economic crisis all point to a potentially messy divorce.

In a part of the world where freedom of movement is celebrated by way of the Schengen free zone, people living in member nations can move freely within 27 separate countries.Would the Schengen free zone still exist in an economic sense when the issue is resolved? Would any dissolution of the zone or damage caused by tariffs affect non-European nations ability to conduct trade issues of the day?

None of this can be good for the global economy any more than it could be good for the New Zealand economy. This is shown by the number and range of countries that are opposed to the plan for tariffs. Alongside New Zealand are Canada, United States, Thailand, Uruguay and others.

Two years after that shocking June 2016 announcement that the United Kingdom would seek divorce from the European Union, the real economic costs are only now just starting to come out. And as they do, the criticism of the result whose implications probably not that many voterrs understood is only going to get louder and more diverse.

Was Brexit in a purely economic sense such a great idea now?