DUNCAN GRAHAM Could Kiwi values fly north?

Mar 12, 2019

New Zealand’s image has always been less coarse than Australia’s.

Both nations claim to be egalitarian, peopled by ‘can-do’ improvisers. The Jolly Swagman’s cousin is A Good Keen Man. They salute the ‘fair go’, sharpen scythes to slash tall poppies and assert Jack and Jill are as good as their masters and mistresses. (The NZ Governor General and PM jobs are held by women).

Though the differences have been good for barbie banter, they lack protein. Kiwis have problems with vowels, though not with rugby. They reckon it’s Godzone but half-a-million prefer life across The Ditch where the weather and wages are hotter and higher.

The hard rock has always been equality. No longer. The top ten per cent of the NZ population holds 60 per cent of the wealth while the bottom half has four per cent. How to fix? Look north for an idea.

Seeking a house? Don’t venture across the Tasman. While values in Australia are tumbling, those in NZ are whooshing ever upwards.

In Auckland, the nation’s biggest city, prices have doubled since 2010. Other North Island centres aren’t far behind. The government is now pondering a rare move – importing a policy from next door: A capital gains tax on windfalls from trading property.

CGT came to Australia in 1985 via a Labor government; to widespread astonishment the nation didn’t turn into the Venezuela of the Pacific. However that’s what will happen if NZ follows suit, according to doomsayers.

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges heads National – NZ’s tamer version of Australia’s Liberal Party. His concern is for ‘people who work hard, who save, who invest, who take risks deserve the fruits of their labour …there is nothing fair about a CGT that fundamentally gets in the way of that.’ He has four houses.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson urged Bridges ‘to turn the hyperbole volume down a little bit … I think the Kiwi way of life is about giving people a fair go, I think it’s about making sure that everyone is treated fairly … that’s what New Zealanders look for.’

Maybe, for their politics are as exciting as a warm beer on a hot day. Compared with its giant neighbour’s end-of-civilisation rhetoric on issues like asylum seekers, NZ is a high-country lake of tranquillity.

Listeners knew they were in totally 100 per cent pure und fentestic jandal (thong) and judder bar (speed bump) territory when they tuned into Radio National NZ in February.

Suddenly a breaking news-alert: Stop everything: Trump shot? Brexit solved? Morrison quits? Only the discovery of one fruit fly – from Queensland. Shock, horror. The furious search for his mates lit up bulletins for a week.

Rental cars carry a dashboard sticker reading KEEP LEFT – which isn’t just about road use. Although Labour leads the present coalition, its National predecessor, which lasted three 3-year terms, was so close to the centre it would put Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott comfy on the same bench.

Led by the jovial John Key, National was hard to hate. He even ran a flag-change referendum; though the people said no, the millionaire former banker’s reputation didn’t, well, flag. When he found the job boring he quit.

His perpetually smiling Labour successor Jacinda Ardern, 38, is using the same ‘box of fluffies’ (Kiwispeak for ‘stay calm and carry on’) approach to crises. In many countries being a young unmarried agnostic Mum would make her unacceptable – in NZ it adds to her lustre.

The lunar right seldom gets treated seriously. NZ is usually ranked as the world’s least corrupt state according to Transparency International. (Australia is 13th). The left has found discipline. It could all turn to custard tomorrow, but these facts are on the menu today.

There are plenty of silly decisions and stupid statements. There’s been an eruption of committees and working parties examining every problem, including house prices. There’s more talk than walk.

Overall public debates seldom get to the gladiatorial contests staged in the Canberra colosseum. For this thank some smart decisions made long ago that Australia might consider.

NZ has a Bill of Rights (1990) – Australia is still hesitating. Aotearoa isn’t cursed with a federal system. No State governments thwarting change. Since 1951 there’s been no upper house to revise / stuff up lower house legislation.

NZ has the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system also used in Germany and Scotland. MPs are either elected by their constituency, or appointed from the party list. It’s complex, but two years ago 80 per cent of registered electors voluntarily voted. Seven seats are reserved for Maori on a separate roll.

Australia is still chewing over a treaty with its indigenous citizens. NZ’s was signed in 1840 and although friction over interpretations sometimes spark scrub fires, most seem proud of the document, preserved as a national icon in Wellington.

There’s no contest that Waitangi Day (6 February) marks the nation’s foundation. It’s an elaborate, drawn-out event involving Maori custom, religion, pakeha (European) rituals and fun on the treaty grounds. It’s sometimes been a forum for Maori rotten tomato protests, but this year Ardern was treated with respect and given the breakfast tomato sauce duty.

Like most leaders she uses Te Reo (Maori); scores of words are being stirred into English and used in the mainstream media confusing or delighting visitors.

So some Australians are going to find it even more difficult to understand what’s going on next door. If they can, they might reckon there’s a thung or two to learn from Kiwis in exchange for the CGT.

Australasian journalist Duncan Graham, who usually reports from Indonesia, is briefly back in NZ.

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