I managed a (much needed) short break to Oz last weekend to help my little sister celebrate her birthday. We are often reminded how closely related we are to our Australian “cousins”. But I was at once struck by how rapidly Australian societyÂ is diverging away from NZ like some Darwinian form of speciation. It depends on your personal value set as to whether or not NZ is being left behind in the wake of Australia’sÂ headlong rush to consumerism and globalism. Perhaps it is not a bad thing that we retain our differences.
One only needs to spend an hour on the (new) motorway from the (new) airport to notice that the majority of motorists over there are driving late model vehicles. Fuelled by the biggest economic boom in many decades plus access to easy credit, Aussies are not shy about spending a dollar to reinforce their status. Indeed, the chief topic of conversation over drinks with friends was their annoyance at having to join a three month waiting list for a brand new, $70,000Â SUV.
Also unlike in New Zealand, Australia’s relationship with Asia is constantly in the media spotlight. Several of foreign minister Alexander Downer’s entourage were killed or injured in the tragicÂ Yogyakarta air crash. This resulted in public outpourings of sympathy as images of a badly burnt journalist were flashed across news screens. Primed by the response to the Bali bombings, a well oiled machine swung into action. The government dispatched an aircraft with medical personel to retrieve the dead and injured and Australian investigators elbowed their way into taking over control of the crash site.
The reason for Downer’s visit was completely lost in the resulting uproar. He was visiting Indonesia to chair a regional security forum and to sign off onÂ a contribution of more thanÂ $300 million in aid. In the face of this, how ironic it would have been if the air crash had been the result of terrorism. Much to everyone’s relief, it soon became apparent that foul play was not involved.
The point of all this is that Australia is investing heavily in its regional relationships. It can’t afford not to, with the world’s most populated nation of Muslims sitting on its back doorstep and a sizeable chunk of its economy invested in the future of Asia. The wealth that allows my sister’s friends to purchaseÂ their new car (and the Federal government to invest taxes into huge amounts of newÂ roading infrastructure)Â is largely grounded in the enormous trade in minerals that the “lucky country” undertakes with its neighbours to the north.
New Zealand is somewhat less blessed geologically than its near neighbour, but still relies heavily on its trade in edible commodities with Asia. Perhaps the fact that “Asia” is ten or more flying hours away has made us a little apathetic. But instead of debating the issue at lengthÂ and paying lip service to engaging more fully, shouldn’t we be doing something serious about it? I’d quite like to upgrade MYÂ 14 year old carÂ this decade!
[tags]New Zealand, Australia, Asia, economy[/tags]