Thursday, October 18, 2007

The wide wide Tasman Sea

They call it "the lucky country" but to my mind there is nothing particularly lucky about our neighbouring continent, Australia. For the past 60,000 years the only people who saw any value in it at all were the various indigenous 'aboriginals' (not a name they gave themselves). The Asians, who sailed by, just saw a big, ugly, flat desert full of nothing. A great place to live if you like flies, sand, and eating lizards. So they left it alone, preferring the fecund tropics further north.

It was the white fullahs (many of whom arrived in chains with very limited life expectancies) who called it the "lucky country". For a start there was all this land. Land as far as you could ..well, and even further. Once you'd wiped out all the natives you could become lord of all you surveyed! And then they discovered things. Once you'd wiped out all the pesky roos, crocs and emus you could farm real animals. Real animals like cows and sheep. You could grow wine! and man, talk about the minerals! No flippin' end of them. How lucky could you be?

Well, you could be New Zealand. In fact New Zealand has more available quality land because it has better water supply. It has huge quantities of minerals, the world's fourth largest maritime territory, natural renewable energy out the wazoo, and no small amount of fossil fuel either. New Zealand is two-thirds the size of Japan, another ring of fire island chain, and larger than England. On that basis it could probably easily support 60 million people. I doubt that Australia could support another 20 million.

For my contention is that Australia isn't lucky at all. Not inherently lucky, anyway. What makes Australia "lucky" is the attitude of the Australians. The Australians have never been shy of being proud of their nation. They have never been shy of dreaming big dreams and then making them happen. Nor have the Australians been scared of telling other nations where to get off.

You could argue that New Zealand's anti-nuclear position was an up-yours to the Americans. But it was a fairly pathetic bit of rudeness by a small child to a kindly visiting uncle. New Zealand is geographically fortunate (lucky again) that it doesn't have to think about defence very seriously because the only nation which can threaten it is Australia. So New Zealanders should get over themselves and recognise when it comes to serious bullies, like the French, we fold like the chicken shits we are. Only one case of terrorism in it its history and where are Alain Marfart and Dominique Prieur today? Not in a kiwi jail that is for sure.

But New Zealand is not a lucky nation. If Australia is the twinkle eyed charming youth, New Zealand is a buck-toothed, thick spectacled, little girl. Why aren't we lucky? Because we don't think like we are. We listen with big eyes to every opinion every passer-by cares to have of us. If they don't like us we rush to our room sobbing. "So what do you think of New Zealand?" is the question every tourist hears again, and again and again and again. We are so insecure we take every report about us incredibly seriously. Then we tie ourselves up in knots in nervous anxiety about what to do about it.

No where is the difference between our two nations more evident than when it comes to climate change and the environment. To Australians the environment is something you make money with. To New Zealanders its something you idolise way beyond its economic value. The Australians set reasonable climate change goals and then manage their way to achieving them. Oh yes, they may not have signed up to Kyoto but they will still meet their targets. Meanwhile New Zealand lets itself get talked into silly targets and then its officials spend years going round in circles not managing them. The only way we will meet our Kyoto obligations is by buying hot air.

Both nations face the European protectionist threat behind "food miles". But only New Zealand is planning to cripple itself with its all gases emissions trading scheme to show Mother England (who is talking up the market while she has hot air to sell) that its doing good on climate change. Not that Mother England's farmers and consumers give a toss about whether we have an emissions trading scheme or not. A more ignorant bunch of self-servers you would be unlikely to meet.

By contrast Australia doesn't give a monkey's about European protectionists. America and China are the powers in the Pacific and as far as Australia is concerned its only what they think that matters. Californian movie stars may worry about Green credentials but the rest of California? Certainly Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea seem to be rather more sanguine about climate change than Britain is. Australia knows its future is in Asia and it is busily digging up vast tracts of its mineral wealth to sell there now so it can be wealthy and happy.

New Zealand doesn't want that. It wants to think of "future generations". It wants to be "pure". It wants to be well regarded by Brits and Germans - peoples who, to be blunt, do not have very good histories of thinking about anyone other than themselves. So we forego being rich in order to be 'sustainable'.

How long is it since you heard New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark talk about 'returning to the top half of the OECD'? Frankly it should be a doddle. The only problem is the New Zealand government which has absolutely no understanding of commercial realities and couldn't develop a kennel into a dog-house. So she's changed tack. Now we are going to lead the world in sustainability. That means punishing the private sector - something the government can do without even thinking about (and usually does). So that officials can travel to all sorts of exotic locations for 'talks' we will be purer than the driven snow.

To be brutally honest New Zealand doesn't need to have a problem with climate change. All we need to do is plant 2,500km2 in pinus radiata (10mT CO2e) and the problem goes away. It's a lot of work but not impossible. The Department of Conservation (which has inexplicably done nothing to assist the nation with climate change over the past 15 years) has land mostly growing rabbits for such a task.

People talk about looking after the interests of our children. I have four children. And what I wish is that I was a lot richer so that I could assist them more as they grow up so that they could be freer. The same applies to nations. Not developing now just means there is more for the kids to do later. That means they are more beholden to foreigners and less able to make their own decisions.

The question is do we want to be a nation of bellhops for foreigners who come to look at our pristine scenery or do we want to be something more? I say, its time we got over our hangups and removed the red-tape we tie ourselves up in so that we can become seriously rich. Because in the end a growing, powerful economy is the only security we can bequeath.

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