• The Parting of the Ways

    Perhaps it’s because of the sheer size – and therefore enormous potential – of their country, but Australians have always demonstrated a harder-edged nationalism than have Kiwis. And that tendency has become even more apparent in recent years, when they have begun to flex their muscles as, potentially, a regional, if not global, power.

    The consequence of this growing sense of importance on a wider stage has been bad news for the traditional trans-Tasman, Anzac-based, camaraderie. The relationship with New Zealand matters less than it did (something that can be established by numerous examples) and is one increasingly of big brother to little brother, with New Zealanders being tolerated only as a kind of Australian sub-species.

    This increasingly apparent nationalism – and the sense of “Australia first” and the dismissal of anything that is not “dinkum Aussie” that one sees today, and every day, most obviously on the sports field – is all the more surprising for a country that has been built on immigration and the welcoming (other than by the indigenous people) of people from distant lands.

    There is a strongly entrenched narrative that reinforcing the Australian identity is the route to an even brighter future and greater influence – and it is at least arguable that the unexpected election victory for the incumbent government was a further expression of the sentiment that electing that government was a further test of one’s “Australian-ness”.

    There was some speculation, prior to the election, that the death of Bob Hawke, the quintessential Aussie and former Labour premier, would work in favour of the Labour opposition; but the reverse may have been the case. The publicity surrounding Bob Hawke’s death may have redounded to the benefit of the party most clearly seen as “representing” (in the sense of being pat of the fabric of) today’s Australia.

    “Dinkum Aussies”, and perhaps especially, non-political ones, in other words, are expected to stick by their government, through thick and thin, just as they do with their sportsmen and sportswomen in times of adversity. Nationalism, in its various forms, has, after all, always been a characteristic of right-wing politics, so it should come as no surprise that a heightened sense of the Australian national identity should work in favour of an incumbent government of the right.

    The direction of travel and causation may not, either, have been entirely from nationalistic attitudes leading to right-wing political views, but rather in the reverse direction. Australians have always been less socially aware and responsive than Kiwis; it is no accident that the great New World advances in social policy were achieved in New Zealand, rather than across the Tasman.

    A fundamentally right-wing view of society may, in other words, have both generated and then benefited from a rising tide of nationalism. Whatever the truth of such speculation, the re-election of a National /Liberal government in Australia looks sure to be bad news for Kiwis, particularly for those who were unwise enough to cross the Tasman in search of a new start.

    The re-elected government is unlikely to change its unfair treatment of, and its withholding of the normal rights of citizenship from, those Kiwis, and Scott Morrison is himself closely identified with the shameful treatment of refugees for which Australia has become notorious – though Australians seem to find it perfectly acceptable.

    A further deterioration in trans-Tasman relations may be in store, but we should not blame any difficulties on political differences between the governments that have been elected most recently in the two countries. Both sides have become adept over the decades at managing and accommodating such differences in the wake of general elections producing governments of different colours on the two sides of the Tasman.

    The parting of the ways that has begun to emerge is more a function of changes in Australian attitudes – changes that are not, sadly, helpful to the Anzac spirit. We’ll just have to get used to the new normal – and to regret what we have lost.

    Bryan Gould
    20 May 2019