Australian politicians can learn from New Zealand

Every so often I tune into Australian Sky News to see what is happening in Australian politics. As our closest neighbour of influence, Australia and New Zealand have close political, economic and security ties. Australian politicians have commended the strength of the relationship and M.P.’s from both countries Parliaments have sat in on sittings of the other country’s Parliament.

What New Zealand M.P.’s have learned is one thing. But what they might remember Australia for is not so much the policy making, but the prickly tortuous, apparently all consuming politicking that has made their Federal level politics almost morbidly fascinating.

New Zealand is lucky. Here at least, despite the at times menagerie like behaviour of the New Zealand Parliament, it at least works – none of the parties are engulfed by crippling indecision on what to debate next. Despite the grumblings in the National Party about the leadership of Simon Bridges, even National is not lead by a pack of senior M.P.’s who are so consumed by their own ambitions that they have forgotten who they are meant to be representing. And the Labour party rumbles of 2008-2017 all happened on the Opposition benches, and therefore had no significant impact on the day to day running of New Zealand. All have ideas of where they want to take New Zealand, and all have Members of Parliament actively working in their communities.

Not so in in Australia. The Liberal Party of Australia and its Australian National Party allies are crippled by fear of the Australian Labor Party managing to pass legislation that would have ensured medical assistance for the refugees and asylum seekers on the island Republic of Nauru.. So much so that as of yesterday they have given up any hope of passing legislation in 2018 and have gone to an early Christmas

How is it possible to govern when the governing party lives from one day to the next in fear of another coup or something happening that forces them to call an election? New Zealand, in the absence of such strife, can only wonder. It can look at how Tony Abbott, a politician whose sole mission in opposition other than to deny climate change, oppose same sex marriage and campaign for ever increasing tax cuts, was to destroy Ms Gillard’s Government, completely failed. Having led the Liberals to victory in 2013, Mr Abbott had no plans for Australia. If one follows the trail, the failures of Mr Abbott soon become those of his successor Malcolm Turnbull, whose weak leadership finds him likewise struggling. So poor was his leadership that the gains the Liberal Party made in the 2013 election almost completely disappeared in the 2016 election.

Rattled, the more ambitious began plotting against him for Australia’s top job. Peter Dutton, the toxic power hungry Minister of Home Affairs is one. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is another. The former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce whose affair and involvement in the dual citizenship fiasco that saw numerous politicians resign nearly cost him his job, is a third. And a fourth was Scott Morrison, the former treasurer under Mr Abbott. In October this year it came to a head, when, having failed to gain any traction as Prime Minister, was rolled by Scott Morrison, only to cause a Labor party surge in the polls.

During the three years since, the Australian Labor Party has led in every single Two Party Preferred poll that has been taken. It has never had in all that time a score of less than 51% and at times a score as high as 57%. With such support it would be able to comfortably govern on its own without any input from its Green Party friends.

It is not that the Australian Labor Party has had it easy itself. In 2007, Labor swept to power after the Liberals under John Howard lost the election. The newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lasted just a couple of years before being toppled by the ambitious Julia Gillard who narrowly survived the 2010 election and led the Labor Party until 2013 after continual infighting between the two, when Mr Rudd had a go at getting his old job back. Ms Gillard promptly retired from Parliament. Mr Rudd followed in the aftermath of the defeat to the Liberals.

But with the Parliamentary year in Australia effectively over, the Liberals will be going to summer break nervous about what the New Year will bring. Labor will be going into it with high hopes of ending an increasingly pathetic game of charades.


China and New Zealand

I have much time for China as a nation. Put aside the geopolitics, the politicians, their territorial ambitions, economic issues, human rights violations and so forth just for a moment. Take off your rose tinted blinkers and you have a nation whose contribution to civilization has been as great as any western power

China has made huge contributions across the course of history to civilization. From being a cradle of civilization 350,000 years ago to having a smorgasbord of ethnicities and dialects, covering one of the largest and most geographically diverse land masses in the world

China discovered gun powder around 1000AD, sometime before the Europeans realized its potential. They invented the first seismograph, which is dragon figure with 8 heads,and each one had a ball with a different weight and density. In an earthquake the strength of the shaking determined which ball would be released. Other notable inventions include the compass, paper and alcohol.

Chinese explorers such as Admiral Zheng He, who commanded expeditionary voyages throughout south and southeast Asia, western Asia and also to parts of eastern Africa. Another explorer Gan Ying may have reached Roman Syria shortly after the death of Christ.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and you have a world super power whose ambitions are as great as they were during their numerous dynasties. In military, economic, social and cultural power you have a nation looking for a suitably large sphere of influence. The difference is that with many fold more people and an established system of nations as opposed to dynasties, the rule of international law as opposed to the whim of the ruling dynasty, achieving that sphere of influence that imperial China might have had in the middle ages is no longer possible, yet the politicians – bent on greatness – try nonetheless.

New Zealand walks a delicate tight rope through the South Pacific. Whilst it is very definitely our sphere of influence, it is one that both the United States and China are keen to exert their own designs on as well.

New Zealand, like other nations, cannot do without Chinese trade. It is worth billions of dollars per annum to New Zealand and an implementation of sanctions because New Zealand upset Beijing over something is a serious matter.

But New Zealand needs to be wary of Chinese Government ambitions. It has stealthily inserted itself into the affairs of nations around the world. The South Pacific has not been spared with a new wharf being funded in Niue, the recent A.P.E.C. meeting in Papua New Guinea. It has been trying to build a naval base in and is propping up the local dictatorships.

Some of China’s actions have been brazen bullying. They have included officials storming into the offices of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister and demanding he make changes to an agreement that had been signed – Police had to be called and threatened to arrest the officials unless they left. Others have been subtle displays of soft power, but with a very definitive edge to them such as building infrastructure that smaller nations cannot afford using Chinese labour and material.

Around the Pacific its influence is spreading. New Zealand has not been an exception, and until today it looked possible that critical communications systems might have Chinese designs. The Huawei telecommunications company has been trying to establish itself as the builder of the 5G and possibly 6G networks, until today’s announcement that Spark had blocked their application. Spark, acting on the advice of the Government Communications Security Bureau, had deemed the the Chinese company to pose an unjust security risk in a time when there are growing concerns about its human rights record, treatment of media and tolerance of dissent.

The future is cloudy. How far will New Zealand go to appease China before it comes to the conclusion that it needs to make a stand for its own good? How far can it go? At some point in the relatively near future, I think New Zealand-Chinese relations might be in for a bit of a reset.

Is China interfering with New Zealand academics?

Academics at University of Canterbury have urged Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to speak out against the interference of China or Chinese nationals in the life of an academic who is an expert on their domestic affairs. The alleged interference against Professor Anne Marie Brady came to light after her Magic Weapons report into China’s application of soft power pressure in aspects of New Zealand such as education, media and politics, created ripples last year.

Ms Ardern has instructed intelligence agencies to investigate whether China has targeted Ms Brady. She says that if a report linked China to such activity then she would be prepared to act.

It would not be the first potential case of a foreign power interfering with New Zealand academics who have stumbled on in the course of their work goings on that are sensitive to said power. The tactics used have been similar to what Dr Brady says has happened to her.

To me such strong reactions indicate that the researcher has discovered something that could be criminal or politically embarrassing for a nation.

In 1999 China was accused of trying to make the police arrest protesters near a state banquet that the then Premier Jiang Zemin was due to attend. It is understood that Mr Zemin did not want to see protesters and was prepared to delay his arrival until they were moved/arrested. New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was accused of asking the police to move protesters on. In the end the police said that they acted to preemptively to prevent Chinese security officials doing something more serious.

During other visits, Chinese officials have complained about New Zealand M.P.’s namely Rod Donald, Russel Norman and others from the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

In other incidents, Sajo Oyang, a Korean fishing company with vessels operating out of Lyttelton, is thought to have been behind intimidatory behaviour around investigations into alleged human rights abuses on those vessels. Whilst this does not appear to have involved the South Korean Government, the characteristics of the intimidatory behaviour appear to have been similar to that suffered by Dr Brady. At the time of these occurrences, Indonesian crew on the vessels had left the vessels and sought legal assistance over the human rights abuses they allege to have suffered.

Will New Zealand politicians have the gonads to speak out and say that this is not acceptable behaviour? I would like to think so, but I have my doubts based on past refusals to condemn activity of a bullying nature by other nations – most China. The most likely resistance would come from the Green Party Members of Parliament. The New Zealand First Members of Parliament who were so principled during their time on the Opposition and cross benches appear reluctant to continue standing on it. Labour Members of Parliament might have their hands tied by the neoliberal party it has become and its departure from that of Walter Nash and Peter Fraser.

Treading the South Pacific foreign policy tight rope

Over the years New Zealand has been involved in many events on the world stage. Most for the right reasons and a few for somewhat questionable reasons. New Zealand has – depending on the Government of the day, said we have interests overseas and closer to home in the South Pacific.

When one looks at the major problems around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, New Zealand is a comparatively minor player. Most of those problems are not ones worth investing our time, money or resources in. Our time, money and resources are best invested in the South Pacific, which is our proverbial back yard. And there are good reasons for doing so.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

A good example of this was Papua New Guinea’s decision to import 40 Maserati vehicles for A.P.E.C. which was held over the weekend just gone. Despite not being able to properly fund its social welfare, education or health systems, Papua New Guinea, with China’s help was able to somehow spend tens of millions of dollars on a three day talk fest that wound up being a farce.

A.P.E.C. was meant to be a summit to talk about the economic challenges facing the Asia Pacific region. Instead it became a U.S./China debating competition. The tensions rose to the point that Chinese officials barged into the Papua New Guinean Prime Ministers office and demanded changes to something that had been agreed to and only left when threatened with arrest. No joint statement was agreed to by the delegations and the other nations including New Zealand were reduced to being spectators to a super power argument.

Few of the issues on the agenda that need tackling would have been.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. The bulk of our foreign policy effort should be in the South Pacific. New Zealand should be showing that we are their best friends.

And in terms of understanding the underlying problems, the culture and the needs of these nations, New Zealand and Australia are best placed to do so.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. The United States is expanding the deployment of U.S. forces in Australia, which is part of a change in doctrine that President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barak Obama instigated to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about protecting the South Pacific nations maritime and sovereign interests. I found that interesting since alongside Chinese influence, the next biggest threat to their sovereignty is environmental degradation making the smallest of them uninhabitable – something the U.S. Government of Donald Trump all but denies existing.

So, tell me now. Who has the the South Pacific’s interests most at heart? The U.S.?
China? Or New Zealand and (maybe) Australia?


What did we learn from W.W.1 100 years on?

When Europe spiralled into war in 1914, there was an almost euphoric, gleeful, delightful jolly mood throughout Europe. What a jolly thing they all said. It will be all over Christmas and we’ll be having pudding on the table, with presents under the tree and a roast for dinner.

So off they all rushed to war, this jolly good European jaunt. The Commonwealth nations excited to be supporting Mother Britain all began to mobilize. The Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans all put out calls for troops.

Within weeks the first casualty counts were coming in. The Germans had somehow stalled on the banks of the Marne River. No worries everyone thought. Things will get going again soon. The days turned into weeks. The weeks into months. The nights began to become longer and the days colder. The trenches that were supposed to be temporary were starting to take on a degree of permanence.

No peace would descend on Earth in 1914. Instead the first of many bloody battles up and down the Western Front over which a few square miles of land would be fought with fanatical savagery had begun. Battles costing thousands of lives a piece had happened at St. Quentin, the Marne, Albert, Yser, Ypres (No. 1 of 5) and a host of other places. The ground that would become a muddy hellhole over the next four years was starting to be ground up.

The mincing machines of the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele were still over a year away. But as the mass of pill boxes, bunkers, tunnels and barbed wire accrued on both sides of no mans land the men who sat in water logged dug outs eating, washing, and otherwise trying to live in close quarters to many other men, the task of finding ways to break the stalemate and win the war became a priority.

The plane as a weapon of war was still in its infancy. The tank was still years away. But other sinister developments were taking shape. Desperate to gain the military initiative, the Germans, French and British had begun experimenting with chemicals as weapons. The initial attempts were unsuccessful, but in 1915 the Germans introduced chlorine.

Tactics were changing too. The creeping barrage that moved in front of advancing soldiers had been introduced. A moving wall of exploding shells would proceed the soldiers across no mans land, chewing up and spitting out already mangled land and bodies. Another one, the bite and hold strategy of biting a small chunk out of the enemy lines, consolidating and moving on was another.

By the time the Somme and Verdun, two blood baths with a combined total of nearly 2 million Allied and German dead between them, were over, the French were ready to mutiny. The Russians, sick to death of their wealth hoarding Tsar and no longer able to stomach any further fighting against the Germans were ready to revolt. Food shortages in Germany and Britain were dire and no one knew how or when this giant mangling machine would end.

Conditions were no better in the Commonwealth countries. New Zealand and Australia were permanently scarred by their experiences in Gallipoli in Turkey where they had been trying to take the Dardenelles and secure a supply line to Russia. Canada, South Africa and India were also bleeding steadily. All had further bloody confrontations awaiting them at Passchendaele (Ypres III), and elsewhere.

And so, Passchendaele got underway with the misgivings of just about everyone involved. Only the Generals seemed to be keen for it to happen. The 100 days of mud and blood that followed earnt it a special place in the collection of hell’s that World War 1 was.

Whilst that was happening the Russians had the second of two revolts that toppled the Tsar. Communism became a new term in the language of politics and within months, Russia and the Germans had cut a deal that enabled the Germans to flood the western front with fresh forces.

The German offensive of 1918 temporarily terrified the Allies, moved rapidly west for a month and then, unable to sustain their supply lines, failed. Another 688,000 Germans and 863,000 British, Commonwealth, French and American lives later and it was over for Germany. Before they could recover, the Allies 100 days offensive that would end with the Kaiser abdicating and Germany calling for an armistice began. It took back everything the Germans had taken and was closing on the German border when the Kaiser abdicated.

So what did we learn from World War 1? Apparently not a lot, other than that type of war is criminal. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was apparently cowardice, for which one could be shot. Soldiers went home and suffered permanent mental break downs as a result of what they had seen and done with no redress of any sort. And in that 4 1/4 years, enough progress was made on the technological front to unleash horrors unheard of in 1913. Historians to this day argue over the true meaning of the battles that took place, though all are in agreement that it was a truly appalling time in human history.

It was meant to be the war that ended all wars. The Germans would be vanquished, and unable to conduct offensive wars ever again. It would be punished and made to pay huge reparations. Yet on 01 September 1939 World War 2: The Really Really Dreadful Sequel started.

The pill boxes and the grave yards that litter fields in Belgium and France are silent testament to four years of abject madness where political pride and military prestige were more important than the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. If nothing else, on this 100th Armistice Day Anniversary, we would do really well to remember that. They did not die for nothing.