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Howard's End: Waltzing With Matlilda

Professor Bob Catley released a book last week entitled, Waltzing with Matlilda, suggesting that New Zealand has got 10 years to join Australia or it will be too late for us to avoid the fate of a poor Pacific nation. John Howard writes.

Professor Bob Catley, a foreign policy academic from Otago University, argues in his book that unless New Zealand joins politically with Australia our economy will get worse and we will continue to run a "foreign aid" programme - sending a stream of skilled and productive workers across the Tasman each year.

He says skilled workers will increasingly got to Australia, leaving New Zealand with a shrinking tax base and a growing social welfare bill.

He suggests that if we take too long to join, Australians would not support the idea of a poorer nation becoming a new state. He says, "the gap between income levels will get too substantial for Australians to wear it."

On the other hand, Alex Sundakov, director of the Institute of Economic Research says, "It is an issue for New Zealand economically, but political union with Australia cannot possibly solve these issues."

Mr Sundakov said joining with Australia would not bring New Zealand physically closer, nor make it more densely populated.

Yes, we would still be a sparsely populated state of Australia, but surely it would make us stronger where it counts - in global clout. After all, some member countries of the EU are also separated by sea. And aren't we closer to Sydney than Perth is?

Let's compare China with France, and then compare Australia to New Zealand.

All four are independent states, and when we speak of them, it's clear that "independent state" means the same thing in all four instances. But all four are also nations, so it's clear that the term "nation" means something different in the comparisons.

So what makes a nation?

If we asked a random person from another part of the world how they could tell that China and France are different nations, almost every test they would likely offer - language, culture, race, religion, cuisine, origins - would fail to distinguish the Kiwis from the Aussies.

They would probably say that Australia and New Zealand only form two nations rather than one because the citizens of each nation feel that should be so.

Of course, this global perception of the two countries skirts one enormous issue that both Australia and New Zealand share their land with indigenous people along with their narratives and symbols.

But I haven't met an indigenous person yet, who is not desperately trying to improve their lot under sometimes difficult circumstances. Many Maori, of course, already live permanently in Australia probably for that purpose.

Moreover, the world is moving towards political and economic union and it seems likely we will have to address these issues sooner rather than later - not the least because in terms of our trading future alone, a 30 km tunnel is now on the drawing board to cross under the Baring Straits between Russia (Europe) and Alaska ( the America's) There are also the land bridge and canal proposals through Asia.

Think about where that might leave the trading future of both Australia and New Zealand? Clearly, we will need to join significantly in the transport area alone to lower our costs to compete. As separate nations, will Australia want that, or allow it?

Australia is already extending the railway link between Adelaide and Darwin. This means that products from all the states can link into one rail system into Darwin at the top end - much closer to Asia.

What's better for us - the cost of transporting goods to Australia and then using that rail system or the higher costs of transporting our products direct into Asia from New Zealand?

And make no mistake, the cost of transport will increase significantly under the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. For instance, aviation fuel is not taxed internationally which means that a carbon tax will be introduced on air transport because of emissions coming from jet aircraft.

The European Union is almost complete as a full political state, and there is to be full currency union just nine months away.

The same scenario is beginning with the trade agreements of the America's currently under negotiation in Canada. From the Yukon to Yukatan firstly trade union, then economic union and finally full political union will occur - probably within 10 years.

That will just leave the central bloc of the Asia/Pacific area - Oceania - to be negotiated.

So can New Zealand (Simon Upton rightly calls us "the last bus stop on the planet") afford to procrastinate any longer?

Over time we've heard the academics and we've heard the politicians, so isn't it time we now heard the people?

Let's hold a referendum - "Should New Zealand become a State of Australia" - because I can think of nothing worse than politicians taking control of such an important issue.

The Australian Constitution still provides New Zealand with the opportunity to become an Australian state if we want to. So let's all decide once and for all because New Zealand also has a lot to offer such a union.

The Australian states enjoy a fair amount of autonomy and, if we joined, the Federal Government would also have to ensure that we got a fair share of the national pie.

Ultimately, it's about survival because, like in nature, there is no such thing as true equality and the strong will always dominate the weak - in trade, or in life.


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