It’s a reality of Western democracies that the most estranged citizens tend to come from the most successful and best-educated sections of society. The phenomenon is best described as alienation, a feeling of dissociation from fellow citizens and their elected leaders.
Take Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside. He lives a lifestyle to which most Australians would aspire. But he’s not happy with his lot. On New Year’s Day, Burnside tweeted: “The only thing worse than #ScottyFromMarketing as PM is the possibility of @PeterDutton replacing him. If that happens, it will be time to move to NZ where they HAVE a real leader.”
Those with a sense of deja vu may recall that it is not the first time Burnside has threatened to quit the land of his birth following political disappointment. Before the 2004 election, he foreshadowed an intention to consider “leaving Australia if John Howard were re-elected”.
When this occurred, Burnside conceded that inertia was a powerful reason for staying in Australia. He added that “the effort of selling up and moving to New Zealand or Canada and re-establishing a career is formidable”. And so it came to pass that Burnside remained in Australia and unsuccessfully contested last year’s election as the endorsed Greens candidate in the Melbourne seat of Kooyong.
Burnside worked hard to defeat Josh Frydenberg with the help of leftist activist groups such as GetUp. But the Coalition won both seats and votes in the election. Rather than accept that Scott Morrison is the duly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Burnside, who paraded his AO QC post-nominals in the election campaign, refers to Morrison as “ScottyFromMarketing”. This is just a sneer.
In the unlikely scenario Dutton replaces Morrison as prime minister and the even more unlikely scenario that, in such a situation, Burnside would pack up his Melbourne mansion and head to Auckland or Wellington, what would he find? Well, not a Greens-style utopia, that’s for sure.
The fascination of some Australians with New Zealand seems to have coincided with the elevation of New Zealand Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern to Prime Minister in September 2017, leading a minority government with the support of New Zealand First led by Winston Peters.
Without doubt, Ardern is a successful politician with an ability to project empathy. But her political legacy has yet to be established. Despite this, some Australians appear to have fallen in love with Ardern’s New Zealand.
At a post-budget business function in Sydney in April last year, ABC presenter Ellen Fanning introduced panellist Sir John Key, a former conservative New Zealand prime minister, with the statement: “Don’t we love a New Zealand prime minister in Australia, any of them are fine.”
Last month Nine Entertainment newspapers published an article by Neil McMahon, who suggested that what he termed “Kiwi envy” was a phenomenon “afflicting modern Australia”. He referred to “the election of global icon Jacinda Ardern, whose disarming political charm and boldness (have) left many Australians gazing forlornly across the ditch and wondering: what happened to us?”
Earlier this month Nine newspapers published a column by playwright Ned Manning, who maintained that Australia’s victory in the Boxing Day Test “exposed the evolving essential difference between the two neighbouring countries”. Yes, according to Manning, you can generalise about a nation by watching its men’s cricket team in action.
Manning’s point was that the Aussies were technically superior but the Kiwis “seemed to have the whole thing in perspective”. He did not like “the incessant chest beating of our players”. Fair enough. But it’s a stretch to claim “a lack of self-confidence makes us take ourselves seriously” based on the behaviour of a dozen men in cricketing whites. According to Manning, Australia might defeat New Zealand at cricket “but we have a fair way to go when it comes to defining who we are”.
He argued that New Zealanders “have an anthem that reflects their, not someone else’s, culture; they are unafraid to stand up for themselves on issues such as climate change and, famously in the past, nuclear arms; and they have a treaty” with the Maori people.
Manning’s comment about the New Zealand national anthem is not readily understandable. However, he overlooked the fact Key’s National Party government restored imperial honours — knights and dames — in 2009 (they had been abolished by Labour in 2000). Also, in 2016, most New Zealanders voted in a referendum against Key’s proposal that the Union Flag (Union Jack) should be removed from the top left corner of the nation’s flag.
It’s true New Zealand has denied US nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships access to its ports. But it’s also true that through the years New Zealand has obtained its defence on the cheap, relying on the military assets of US and Australia to protect its sea lanes and air lanes.
Members of the Kiwi fan cub in Australia, like Burnside, rarely protest against how little New Zealand does with respect to its refugee and humanitarian intake. At five million people, New Zealand’s population is about one-fifth of Australia’s yet it accepts far fewer than one-fifth of those who find refuge in the area of Australasia. Then there is the fact, as Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor has pointed out, that New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, not declining.
Sure, the Land of the Long White Cloud is a fine place to live. But its population is unlikely to blossom following an intake of Australians. There is no evidence in suburban, rural or regional Australia that citizens are thinking about doing a Burnside and seeking political refuge across the Tasman. This is just a fantasy for some Australians who can afford to be alienated.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.