N.Z and Australia: Elephant in the room is immigration

New Zealand and Australia enjoy a unique relationship that few other countries can come close to matching. Whether it is in history or economic relations, foreign affairs or culture, the similarities are impressive. So how then did other nationalities come to have a direct path to Australian citizenship, but not us?

558,000 New Zealanders live in Australia, up from 345,000 in 2001. Due to the very close relationship between the two countries, New Zealanders only need to arrive in Australia on a valid passport and can live and work in Australia indefinitely.

There is one significant catch though. New Zealanders do not have access as a general rule to Australian citizenship, in that there is not a specific pathway to becoming an Australian in the same way that there is for other nationalities. And this is a significant sticking point in Australia-New Zealand diplomatic relations. Successive Australian Governments whilst referring to New Zealanders and New Zealand as family have made a deliberate case of maintaining a distance using immigration policy.

Contrast that with New Zealand which accepts Australians and offers them a path to New Zealand citizenship. 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand. The restrictions as we shall see on Australians receiving assistance from New Zealand health, education and social welfare are less than those for New Zealanders in Australia.

With 558,000 New Zealand nationals living in Australia, inevitably a few feature in the crime and other unsavoury statistics. Minor offending is not generally something that attracts the attention of Australian officials. However more serious offending such as assault, robbery, and serious ones such as murder are known to attract the attention of the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Protection Agency among others.

This is where things get dicey. New Zealanders entering Australia long term need to apply for a Special Category Visa. Following law changes in 2001 New Zealanders living long term in Australia wanting access to social, and other services can only receive restricted access after applying and being granted permanent residence through the migrants programme.

A few New Zealanders who moved to Australia when they were very young and have no connection to New Zealand whatsoever have found themselves being deported from Australia for criminal offending to a country where they know no one, have no knowledge of customs, laws or otherwise. They have no official record such as an Inland Revenue Department number, will not have an photo ID available or official statements such as bank statements or utility bills to provide evidence of living. And yet here they find themselves in a completely foreign land, where the only thing in common is that both countries speak English and drive on the left.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the pathway to nowhere for New Zealanders – we enter Australia, we find our accommodation and get a job. We can set up a bank account and so forth without any problems and can come and go as we please. But the closest we can get to permanent residence or citizenship is the Special Category Visa. After all this time and the generosity we show to Australians living here is it not time for New Zealand to try to draw level?

Perhaps that is something for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters to take up with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne.

Australia: The lucky country not so lucky anymore

For over 20 years, since before I left high school, I remember people saying how they wanted to move to Australia because there were more economic opportunities. They wanted to move because incomes were better, the pace of life faster – more night clubs, more things to do, more diversity. Some were going to move as soon as they had enough money and others were going to so when they finished University. Few entertained the idea of coming back however distant.

The media maintained this image of New Zealand being Australia’s poor cousin by focussing on the income gap between the two nations, something New Zealand was never really going to close. People would say when asked why they were moving to Australia and not coming back “because the grass is greener”. From a purely economic sense they were probably correct.

At the same time it has to be said that on one hand New Zealanders enjoy benefits that non-Australians do not including not needing a visa to work there. On the flip side there is no clear pathway for New Zealanders to become Australians whilst there is a clear path for Australians to become New Zealanders. This flip side has tempered the New Zealand experience for many in Australia because citizenship is required to access medical, educational and social welfare services.

Economically Australia has been one of the most consistently well performing western economies in the last 30 years and only with a decline in demand for raw minerals from China has it really slowed down. Australia is still a very wealthy country. It has huge mineral reserves that are untapped. It has huge sunlight hours which would enable virtually continuous solar power in the vast interior of the continent where temperatures often reach into the mid 40ºC range in summer.

Australia’s natural environment has been one of its great draw cards with people coming in their millions to see the Great Barrier Reef with its diverse array of coral reefs and fish. They come to see the continent and the amazing array of bird, reptile and mammalian life that inhabits it. It is this same natural environment that is paying a steep price for short term economic gain.

Unfortunately Australia is bleeding itself dry in a hydrological sense. Much of Australia’s natural drainage is confined to one huge river system in the southeast, which takes up 1,000,000 square kilometres or about 400,000 square miles, called the Murray-Darling. This comprises two large rivers, each exceeding 1,000 kilometres in length. The Murray Darling River system held great promise. Over the years it has been used for irrigation, electricity generation, tourism and as a fishery. As demand for its water grew, so did the environmental costs Despite the Murray Darling Basin Authority trying to implement a plan to protect the river as a living system the Murray Darling has steadily declined. Australia has run one of the great river systems in the world into the ground, with flows so low in some places now that the river is virtually stagnant. These conditions mean shallow parts of the river allow the river water to heat up to a point where fish simply cannot survive, where lethal cyanobacteria algae is growing in vast mats and is toxic to dogs, humans and fish alike.

It is not just the decline in water quality though that makes this a particularly sad tale. For years the steady reduction of the water flowing into the sea at its mouth west of Melbourne has enable creeping salinisation of the ground water to occur, so that instead of fresh clean drinking water, increasingly it is more consistent with sea water. For decades the river has also been slowly but systematically diverted for hydro power generation in the Snowy Mountains.

It is unfortunately not just environmental issues that afflict Australia. Its political system more resembles a virus riddled computer than a functional commonwealth. An increasingly fractious federal Government has been virtually crippled by infighting, a lack of accountability and self serving members. Scandals have ranged from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce having an affair with a lady working in his office to the Murray Darling one mentioned above and giving $400 million of tax payer dollars to a tiny charity with no oversight.

From this side of the Tasman Sea it is sad to watch one of the wealthiest nations in the world that has had so much going for it sliding into a state of decline like this. New Zealanders are still moving to Australia each year in considerable numbers, but the number of New Zealanders returning because they have run up against the limitations that go with not having citizenship, has increased.

Hope for future sustainability of New Zealand

Yesterday I opined about what is and what is not New Zealand’s “nuclear free moment”. I noted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments from the 2017 election campaign that climate change is her generation’s “Nuclear Free moment”, and I built my counter argument. At the end of that argument I noted I still have hope for New Zealand, and I do.

Just because other nations do not want to unplug from the corrupted system that is capitalism, does not mean New Zealand should stay plugged in. Many of these are older nations that have deep rooted socio-economic problems that I am not sure even they understand the deep and complexity of.

The decline of the west is manifesting in several forms. In some countries it is socio-economic decline that is impacting. In others it is the unsustainable exploitation of the natural environment and mineral resources.

Japan is one such example. A very old civilization with traditions spanning thousands of years it has been very slow for a westernized nation in terms of gender equality and it is the expectation of large tracts of Japanese society that a woman will not return to work, once she has given birth. Many Japanese women are more career oriented than earlier generations and are either having fewer children or no children at all. This has shown in the population statistics: Japan’s population peaked in 2007 at 126 million, with a decline nearly 1 million people since then. Japan’s reputation for a love of things robotic is impressive, but the lack of humanity in the prospect of robots caring for people in rest homes and in hospitals, displacing some of the most humanitarian jobs there are is almost dystopian.

Australia is a sad example of a country that has been blessed with vast economic wealth, that it is slowly bleeding away. It’s economic growth, whilst spectacular and the envy for many years of New Zealanders, has come at huge cost to the environment. Just recently millions of dead fish were found in the Murray Darling River which makes up most of Australia’s natural drainage. The causes are unmistakably clear – the over allocation of water to irrigation, leading to very low flow conditions where shallow water supports cyanobacteria which is hugely lethal in dogs, very toxic to humans and fish. Unless radical action is taken to address this, the Murray Darling river will stop being a functional drainage system in this generation – some might say it is nearly there now.

New Zealand does not need to be like this. We are young as a nation and lack the deeply ingrained social constraints that Japan has. We are more in tune with our environment than Australia is likely to be with its own any time soon. Our problems whilst numerous and diverse can be better managed because we are starting to wake up from the neoliberal market economic experiment that National and A.C.T. continue to promote.

But we need to be bold. In environmental, transport, housing and biodiversity we need to lift our game substantially and do so soon. We have one of the larger ecological footprints of a first world nation and are one of the slackest when it comes to recycling rates. New Zealand needs to revisit how we issue consents to take water, to build properties and the planning framework that goes with it. This is not to say the Resource Management Act is out of date. Much more freight traffic needs to be going by rail, which is grossly under utilized and not

If the Malthusian decline continues in spite of this, then it would point to problems outside of New Zealand’s reasonable means to deal with. It would point to problems that are probably global in nature. But as long as we can address our own problems, New Zealand will be a beacon of light in an increasingly gloomy future.

Questions face the West; the East is rising – and New Zealand looks on

Today, by the time you read this, British Prime Minister Theresa May will know whether she is staring down the barrel of electoral defeat or living, albeit badly wounded to fight another day. It is hardly inspiring to look at the fog of mystery enveloping the United Kingdom as it struggles with Brexit in all its uncertainty. Do the Conservatives or Labour know what they are doing or meant to be doing? Most likely no more than the shop keeper, the bus driver, the school teacher, or police officer doing their daily duties.

Will the U.K. be ready for Brexit on 29 March 2019 or will it have to delay?

But if we look across the English Channel to France, where the Yellow Vest revolt has entered its tenth week and has forced President Emmanuel Macron to have second thoughts about some of his more controversial policies, are things any better? France rejected the left and the right when it elected President Macron after a failed term of Francois Hollande on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, in the hope that a centrist might make more sense. Nearly two years on, it is hard to tell whether Mr Macron has had any success or not.

Will the Yellow vests become like the protesters of 1968, who ground France to a halt?

And then there is America, partially immobilized by a Trumpian shut down that shows no signs of ending and is now the longest on record. Hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who were furloughed got no pay last week. Thousands of them will be starting to seriously think about looking for alternative work in order to keep their household upright; others will be digging into their savings and wondering how long they can keep going like this before joining the thousands who will have already started looking for other work. It will not be the Democrats or the Republicans that decide this, but the thousand of furloughed workers.

The question facing America is how many vacancies in Federal jobs will have opened up due to furloughed workers quitting by the time this ends?

The dragon is rising. China is actively expanding its sphere of influence by building fake islands and then militarizing them. The old imperial vision of being a ruler of the high seas like Zheng He was in the age of imperial China is growing on President Xi Jinping, whose own ambitions are to create a dynasty not constrained by time limits rather than a President. As the dragon rises, so does the dystopian surveillance state that profiles hundreds of millions of Chinese using a vast array of computerized algorithms.

How much tighter can the Great Firewall of China get? Apparently the answer is quite a lot.

Nearer to home, one must wonder what will become of the Government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Riddled by scandal, crippled in the House by infighting, petrified of Aboriginals, asylum seekers, environmentalists and the Labor Party, Mr Morrison’s Government is struggling to make it even to the last day that it can call a General Election, due this year. But even if Labor wins, it will have a huge job ahead rebuilding Australia’s reputation on the world stage, addressing the socio-economic circumstances that have made places like Sydney among the most expensive in the west.

But can it get rid of the following, whose departure is necessary for Australia to rehabilitate itself: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, among others?

Looking at all of this unfolding from afar it is easy to be smug in New Zealand. However we have little reason for smugness. We have far too many people dying on the roads; a weak justice system, education and social welfare reforms badly needed; stronger leadership on waste and other environmental issues and as the Queen and Prince Philip grow ever older, constitutional reform looms as an indecipherable shape on the horizon.

How will New Zealand address these many challenges? Will it continue looking on with a smug “she’ll be right attitude” or will we notice Godzone could do with a bit of work herself?

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.