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Upton-on-line - Diaspora Edition 31/1/2002

Upton-on-line - Diaspora Edition


31st January 2002


In this issue

We open the year with a round of hostilities on a familiar battlefront involving Carl Stead, there is the (inevitable) meditation on the arrival of the euro in people’s pockets and (strictly serious stuff) a call for further comment on the need for a Trans-Tasman Foundation to help save Australians and New Zealanders from one another.

A splendid literary stoush

If there is a charmed and secure location in which to conduct a stoush, the correspondence columns of the Time Literary Supplement must be without equal. Untroubled by the messiness of daily life, intellectual rapid deployment forces and philosophical raiding parties are locked in mortal combat often for weeks on end. Sometimes the weight of the countervailing forces is even, on other occasions grotesquely astray. But while combatants frequently claim victory, no-one ever loses: there is always an even more remote ivory tower into which a wounded author can, Gandalf-like, retreat.

Upton-on-line has been a voyeur at this keyhole for nearly two decades now and seen some fairly ruthless action at the front lines (there is a wonderful battle raging at present over the dead corpse of French philosopher Michel Foucault and whether or not he accepted that there were any real truths about the world as he faced death through AIDS). But rarely does New Zealand make it into these cosmic battlefields. Unless, that is, the writer being reviewed is C K Stead.

In an academic environment that often seems tepid and safe, Stead’s willingness to emerge from the shadows of politically safe intonings has made him something of a lightning rod on the New Zealand academic scene. The recent publication of a collection of his essays – The Writer at Work - by the Otago University Press has just provoked an exchange of small arms fire. It remains to be seen whether it will develop into a full-scale conflagration.

The opening shots were fired by a reviewer, Philip Mead, who, in rising to the challenge of Stead’s self-proclaimed apostasy on matters to do with the Treaty, the teaching of the English language and the appropriate place of Maori in secondary and tertiary curricula, had this to say:

“ The reality is that, while Stead has been in his foxhole, lobbing grenades, history has swept on. He appears in this collection like the legendary Japanese soldier, lost in the jungle for twenty years, who emerges into a post-modern world, still with the idea that the war is raging … Stead plants his banner aggressively on the ground of British and European inheritance, of New Zealand literature’s “kinship to literature in the English language as it has developed in the United States, Australia, Canada, Africa and India”, of “tradition” over the “individual artist” … His anxiety is that the new directions in New Zealand cultural evolution will devalue the pioneering achievements of Pakeha modernism, with their tangible and honourable filiations to an English model. But the complex, vigorous, post-colonial realignments of New Zealand culture Stead wants to contest with his insistence on an old orthodoxy of imperial relations had been going on for nearly thirty years by the time of this essay. It seems inconceivable to Stead that the cultural future of New Zealand may already lie with Maori/Pakeha convergence, or that Hone Tuwhare is as important a figure in the history of New Zealand language as Allen Curnow.” [TLS January 4, 2002 No 5153]

Whether Mr Mead strayed innocently across the line of control or was the latest operative in a long running and carefully planned guerilla campaign, upton-on-line does not know. But Professor Stead takes no hostages. Here is what the special, bumper Centenary Edition of the TLS of January 18 [No 5155] carried in its correspondence columns:

“ Sir, - I notice that Philip Mead, who reviews my The Writer at Work (January 4), teaches at the University of Tasmania, and I have to say I find it galling but not unfamiliar to be lectured at on race relations from that side of the Tasman Sea, where the recognition that indigenous peoples are human equals is relatively new. This recognition came as early as 1840 in New Zealand, and was enshrined in a treaty between the two races, since when we – Maori and Pakeha - have been trying, sometimes succeeding, often failing, to live up to its principles…

By the 1980s, Maori were clearly on the wrong side of every social indicator – health, wealth, education, crime – and new, more energetic efforts have been made to correct the damage. As a person associated with the political Left, my “apostasy” (the word which troubles your reviewer) consisted, not in deploring the idea that the State ought to have a major role in these corrections, but in suggesting that targeting need on the basis of race might be ineffective. Target need on the basis of need, I argued, and a majority of those helped would be Maori. Target on the basis of race, and many who lacked the need but could find some Maori in their ancestry, would gain at the expense of the truly needy of either race. That argument was treated as “anti-anti-racism” and therefore racist.

But the outcomes of government policies over the last two decades have, I think, shown that my anxiety was well founded. We now have a very small, strident, pale Maori middle class, strong on Maori rights, “cultural safety” and bone pendants, and a large Maori working (or unemployed) class who are as far from social equality as ever.

But I think your reviewer’s dislike of my book comes really from my quarrel with literary theory. Here the issue for me has been one of intelligibility and usefulness. I have consistently upheld the view that literary criticism ought to be a civil discourse among intelligent readers, not arcane exchanges between self-isolating “experts”. That Philip Mead should find this offensive, and attempt to characterize me as an old-fashioned colonial hankering after modernism and Mother England, will not surprise those in university English departments who have spoken out against literary theory, that Empire on which for a time it seemed the sun was never going to set.”

Will the Empire strike back? We will have to wait a couple of issues. Time enough for upton-on-line subscribers, bored by the predictable and smug superiority of The Economist or the limp earnestness of the Guardian Weekly, to subscribe to a surreal weekly in which life and death battles are fought for over ideas while real reputations are savaged – all with stylistic panache and disingenuously good manners.


[ See: www.the-tls.co.uk]

Eurocome

Life will never be the same again. Across the Continent, currencies with lineages from the mists of time (at least in name) have evaporated. Which you would think was quite a big deal – especially here in the land of cultural exceptionalism. But it has all gone off rather smoothly. Newspapers have been scratching around trying to find mayhem or passion overlooking the fact that that would be asking a bit much of a project designed by a central bank.

About the best story upton-on-line has come across is the case of the old lady in Mentana, Italy, who fainted when going to the bank to withdraw her customary 2 million lira in crisp 100,000 lira bills and received just two 500 euro notes.

There was always something rather fabulous about Italian money and the ease with which people dealt with all those zeros. Now they have come thudding back to earth with the dreary prospect of having to re-familiarise themselves with numbers between 1 and 100 – and cope once again with coins that are worth something. For years now Italians have basically ignored sums less than 100 lira. (Small coins were last sighted being used to stuff buttons). Suddenly Italians are confronted with pesky one cent pieces which, as far as they’re concerned, look like beads made for some sort of chunky jewellery collection.

It’s not much better in France where a modest version of the same disdain for coinage has taken hold (upton-on-line had jarfuls of five centime coins to consign to charity by year’s end). Money started to be worth worrying about at the 50 centime or 1 franc level – the rest was pretty questionable. But now the nation is back to a range of nasty looking little 1, 2 and 5 cent coins, the first of these so small that one little Upton has already managed to drop on down the bathroom sink.

Reaction has been pretty ferocious if upton-on-line’s landlady is anything to go by. She has pronounced the coins infernale which can’t be good for nice M Fabius the Finance Minister who’s grandiose offices at Bercy (curiously camouflaged as a sort of container terminal) have been sporting a large neon sign displaying the franc/euro rate for the last 12 months. The Finns, always very practical and unprepossessing have announced they’re dropping the small coins. Upton-on-line wouldn’t give them 12 months in the rest of Europe. Rounding down (or up) to 5 cents as in New Zealand seems to be where we’re headed.

All a side show

None of this adds up to much at all. The significant decision was the move to the euro three years ago since when local currencies have simply been the euro in drag. And it is the political significance of the move that continues to reverberate. Since its launch the euro has consistently under-performed expectations carrying with it a pretty sobering message about the credibility of Europe as a viable entity. Here is a continent that has managed to achieve currency union but can’t agree on a single airspace for traffic control purposes or standardised rules and procedures for chasing criminals.

The reality is that Europe has launched a new currency but doesn’t trust itself even to live with the consequences of that. By ceding monetary authority to an independent pan-European Bank, member states had to accept that they would all live with the monetary consequences (i.e. rising interest rates) of governments failing to control their expenditures. Hence the fiscal stability pact they all signed into, promising to keep budget deficits below 3% of GDP. But there is now a widespread fear that that discipline could be politically unsustainable. Germany is supposed to be the engine room of Europe’s economy. But with political paralysis carrying it towards the deficit ceiling, question marks remain about whether Europe has the institutions to match monetary rectitude with similar resolve in other areas.

In short, man cannot live by monetary policy alone.

Can you blame the British?

Watching the lack lustre performance of the Euro, you cannot help wondering whether the euro-sceptics in Britain haven’t a point. The best argument for joining the euro – an independent central bank – vanished when the Blair Government essentially freed the Bank of England from political control. The convenience of enjoying the same currency as people on the other side of the channel tunnel doesn’t seem decisive. Where there are enough European travellers, euros and sterling will happily co-exist. (This argument is much stronger for little Denmark which is physically enmeshed in euro-territory and where the transaction costs of maintaining their own currency must be much higher).

From the British point of view, it’s a fair question to ask why you would want to expose your economy to the vicissitudes of a monetary policy that is being asked to bear the costs of failing policies in Europe be they budget blow outs or rigid labour markets. Britain’s fiscal position and its labour market flexibility give it a dynamism that Europe lacks and can only deteriorate if expansion to include all the candidate countries in Eastern Europe adds a new round of political paralysis to Europe’s decision-making processes.

Any lessons for New Zealand?

If there are, upton-on-line hasn’t the expertise to adjudicate. Arthur Grimes, Don Brash and others will be the people who inform any on-going debate New Zealand has about monetary union with Australia. But one thing that has become crystal clear to upton-on-line is that the political dimensions of planned currency unions are all-important. If they are undertaken – as in Europe – to try to underwrite a broader political project, then the authors have to be able to carry it through. There is no guarantee that that will happen. If on the other hand currency union is pursued on narrower economic grounds, the economic consequences of monetary policy having to absorb the pressures of other policy malfunctions need to be carefully considered in advance. In short, it’s something to be done after mature reflection – not a fit of political euphoria. One has the feeling that the fall of the Berlin Wall may have clouded a few otherwise sober minds.

* * * * * *

[Special Reader Warning: The balance of this issue is potentially boring unless, like upton-on-line, you consider Trans-Tasman relations need to rely on more than assumed and contemptuous familiarity. Proceed at your own risk – comments from those brave enough to continue will be particularly welcome]

A Trans-Tasman Foundation?

Last year, upton-on-line rashly mused on the puerile state of much Trans-Tasman commentary in the wake of the Air New Zealand/Ansett fiasco. He was joined by Victorian State legislator Mark Birrell. The general thesis was that familiarity has bred a thick layer of contempt – and that when you peel back, there’s much less about which we’re familiar than we sometimes think. A surprising number of readers (equally rashly) expressed their support.

As a result upton-on-line wrote a paper setting out the case for a Foundation. For a reality check, he then sent it to Geoff Miller, Australia’s former High Commissioner to New Zealand. Geoff has now offered a critique. To try to focus this debate, upton-on-line now publishes (for the first time) his proposal and Geoff’s response. Feedback is welcomed but be warned: the next phase is finding people prepared to make this happen – and money. And just before anyone has any bright ideas, the Paris office of this institution has not yet opened its doors.

First, then, upton-on-line’s proposal for a trans-Tasman Foundation:


OWNING UP TO DIFFERENCES


“We need to recognise the differences between us, and work around them. We need to stop being surprised and disappointed by our differences, and instead accept them as normal between our two countries. We need to stop harping on about them, and emphasise the positives. We need to treat each other with a little more respect and circumspection; indeed, more like foreigners to one another – which we are.” (Paul White, Australian National University)


“…it is not what divides us that is superficial, but what unites us. The unity is in the superstructure, not the foundations, and superstructures can be readily remade. Only by understanding that, I suggest, can we put this relationship on a truly enduring footing.” (Colin James, Wellington)


Much of what passes for trans-Tasman dialogue proceeds on the basis that there are closely shared affinities which should enable the two countries to find common ground – if only people would try hard enough. The contrary view – that has begun to gain ground – is that the affinities are much less extensive than has been assumed. And to the extent that there are any, they are attenuating. In short, there is no reason why businesses, policy makers, NGOs and even family members should necessarily understand where their trans-Tasman partners are coming from. If indeed the two countries are steadily drifting apart, a strong case exists to describe those differences and monitor their acceleration and in doing so to build the networks needed to enable us to interpret one another.


PROPOSAL


The establishment of a trans-Tasman foundation dedicated to fostering a high level of connectedness between Australia and New Zealand at an informal level in the fields of politics and regional relations, journalism and media, historical and cultural studies and a wide-range of multi-disciplinary issues that cut across business, academic and NGO contact between the two nations.

The Foundation would seek to sponsor and encourage activities – symposia, research projects and writing – that engage people on both sides of the Tasman. An important aim would be to greatly expand the range of personal and professional linkages that exist, particularly outside of traditional professional fields of contact. Focussing on large, cross-cutting issues that engage a mix of disciplines would be an early priority to establish the Foundation as a catalyst to break out of the established ‘safe’ areas of discourse between well-acquainted parties.

Most importantly, the Foundation would proceed from the basis that the two countries are now ‘at least as much foreign as family’; in other words, the countries are on divergent paths in many important areas and need to relate to one another on the basis that there are enduring differences that need to be understood rather than marginalised as exceptions to an otherwise shared set of political and cultural values. This would be the distinguishing feature of the Foundation. It would commence from the premise that neither society can assume that the other is necessarily comprehensible and that maintaining a good relationship requires hard work rather than assumed familiarity.

What the proposal is not

The Foundation would not seek to promote a particular agenda. Neither would it seek to take an active role in policy issues which are under active consideration by either governments or formally constituted business or professional forums. Rather it would aim to focus its activities ‘up-stream’ or to one side of existing points of connection.

What sort of activities should it aim to engage in?

This is ultimately going to be resource-driven, but in the first instance the easiest way of launching the Foundation and giving it profile and a reputation for moving into new and challenging territory would be through extremely well-organised and attended conferences/symposiums. This is a traditional form of networking that works well provided the calibre of attendees is first rate and the general ambience good enough to make attendees feel it was worth taking two days out of their schedules. While such events should have a high level of self-funding, the Foundation would from the outset have to have the resources to get people there who might not otherwise be able to attend. In other words, it must from the outset reach beyond familiar (and well-funded) channels.

As the Foundation evolves, it should aim to place a very high premium on the physical exchange and movement of people between the two countries. This could take the form of scholarships and exchanges. These would need to be properly funded. Finally, it should commit to long-term programme of commissioning publications and research. In short, it should evolve into being the première catalyst for informal exchange and networking between the two countries.

What sort of issues?

There is no shortage of issues that could valuably be opened up to reveal the divergences between the two societies – and thereby valuable learning opportunities. A sample of current issues (plucked literally at random from the mind of the writer) includes:

 Completely different understandings about national identity and institutions flowing from the different notions of multi-culturalism and bi-culturalism
 Radically different views of regional security
 The future importance of immigration and the nature of citizenship
 The different ways in which the countries understand and relate to their colonial pasts
 The impact of totally different physical, cultural and landscape settings on the imagery and iconography of visual and written art forms
 Very different understandings of the Pacific
 The different world views that flow from countries of different scale and sense of place on the international plane
 Apparently different views about risk aversion in scientific and technological fields
 Very different traditions of dissent and utopianism in the different political cultures

The list is virtually endless and none of the above have any particular priority. The Foundation’s aim would be to make a long-term investment in the complexity, intimacy and breadth of the bi-lateral dialogue. The direction that might take would not be a concern for the Foundation. Rather it should see itself in a catalytic role whose success would be measured through the extent to which connectedness at the level of people and ideas can be identified.

How should the Foundation be run?

It would need a board drawn from both sides of the Tasman cutting across the broad range of fields identified. That would be the easy part. The board need not consume large amounts of time as a formal entity (aside perhaps from one really high quality planning meeting a year). It could hold most of its meetings by videoconference. It is the contacts and visible leadership of the individuals that is called for. Vitally important would be a small executive staff. At the outset, a first class director with administrative support is all that is required. The key qualities required of the director would be ideas entrepreneurship, fund-raising skills, excellent personal and communications skills, a high level of trans-Tasman connectedness and a broad understanding of the cultural and political mores of the two nations. Such people are, needless to say, in endless supply.

That format in itself would require in excess of half a million dollars a year. But to make the Foundation a force, it would rapidly need to assemble funding streams of two to three times that amount for bi-lateral exchanges. These could be in cash or in kind but would in any event require significant on-going fund-raising skills. Every effort should be made to avoid any public funding, as much on account of the niggardly and bureaucratic mindset of public funding authorities as on account of the desirability of steering clear of any real or perceived political agendas.

Next steps

The identification of a pool of, say, 100 individuals prepared to lend their personal and public support to such an initiative from whom an inaugural board would be selected.


And here’s what Geoff Miller had to say about that:

“First let me say that, as an Australian interested in the trans-Tasman relationship, I very much welcome your interest, and the thought about practical measures that has gone into your proposal. As it happens I had been thinking about the relationship myself, from a much narrower perspective. I have become the President of the NSW Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and from that perspective had been wondering about the prospects for a reciprocal in Sydney next year of the three seminars on Australia-New Zealand relations held in New Zealand this year, in Dunedin and Wellington. So I was very interested to read your proposal.

“I certainly agree that our two countries should work together to enrich and support each other’s lives and goals, and indeed I was conscious of that happening in so many areas during my time as High Commissioner. We also have the capacity to enhance both countries’ success rate by facing the world beyond together, as indeed we do more often than not.

“However initially I would like to make some comments on your motif, that is the view, said to be beginning to gain ground, that trans-Tasman affinities are much less extensive than has been assumed, and are attenuating. I am not sure that is correct. I have something of a vested interest in saying that, since during my time as High Commissioner we published a booklet, for which there seemed to be some basis, called "Growing Closer Together", about trans-Tasman relations. We pointed to increasing travel between the two countries – 1.5 million journeys a year –; the ever-increasing integration of the two economies; common sporting competitions at lower-than-national level in rugby, soccer and rugby league; the complex and pervasive web of inter-actions between individuals and institutions in the two countries, covering almost every field of endeavour; and finally the simple fact of personal and family links. Commonly used figures have 450,000 New Zealanders, of whom about 60,000 are Maori, living in Australia. That figure alone seems to me to point to pretty extensive "affinities".

“But I think what may have attenuated is a sense of shared purpose or common enterprise. Differences over defence, which Australians think is a basic responsibility of a national government, are well known. On that I thought the speech by Hugh White to the Foreign Policy School in Dunedin illustrated a very developed position, essentially reporting, in a rather elegiac tone, the end of a shared strategic view between the two countries – despite New Zealand’s highly valued peace-keeping roles in Bougainville and East Timor. I think many New Zealanders have been socialised into accepting the peacekeeping view of defence, to the extent that they rather resent what we would regard as more orthodox views.

“In the economic sphere there have been disappointments for both sides as well. There is a basic difference in that Australians generally regard economic integration as essentially completed, while New Zealanders are frustrated at difficulties in finishing off what they see as some "unfinished business" of CER (though Prime Ministers Howard and Shipley made major progress on mutual investment). Despite keen advocacy by people like Arthur Grimes there is no consensus in either country on a common currency or on proceeding to closer economic integration; although, as noted, some New Zealanders want to see some matters "completed", or at least tidied up.

“Disappointments are not all one way. Years of advocacy of a common stock exchange by the former Chairman of the ASX, Maurice Newman, eventually came to nothing. And I think Australians noted that when Air New Zealand was going through its turmoil earlier this year, one New Zealand reaction reported in the Australian media was "any partner but Qantas". CER did not seem to count for much then. And of course the readiness of Air New Zealand’s Board to see Ansett go to the wall shocked Australians.

“There are important entries on the other side of the ledger, of course. For example, Prime Minister Clark, when announcing New Zealand’s much appreciated willingness to assist in our asylum-seeker problem, referred to Australia as New Zealand’s oldest and closest friend.

“But I think an early task is to establish whether there is a constituency for the kind of sustained drive towards a study of each other’s circumstances and attitudes that you envisage. To me it is obvious that there are a great many people in both countries completely at ease with citizens of the other, in terms of business or personal dealings. I think the kind of exchange scheme you foreshadow, particularly focussing on young people, are an excellent idea and could and should attract support. But I’m less sure how large the constituency is for the kind of seminar program you have in mind. What would be the stated context, purpose and goal that would be compelling on both sides of the Tasman – compelling enough to overcome, to put it bluntly, New Zealand ambivalence, Australian acceptance of the status quo, and the ever-present pressures on time, attention and money?

“In other words, why should individuals on either side of the Tasman devote time to a better understanding of, for example, each other’s attitudes to national identity, or regional security, or the Pacific, in the absence of a belief, or acceptance, that we have important and current shared purposes to pursue. Short of that, why not study the same things in relations to, say, Indonesia or the United States? And do we have a common enterprise in progress? I think we have a number of valuable specific ones, especially in the Pacific - Bougainville, East Timor, The Solomons - but I’m not sure we share an over-arching goal capable of catching people’s imagination, as we had when the CER was being created.

“If that is true, in the absence of a compelling rationale, and at this time of corporate cut-backs, fund-raising would be the more difficult. In that context, and despite your strong reservations about bureaucratic funding, I wonder whether you are not letting the two governments off too lightly. Reading through the activities you have in mind, it struck me that a lot of them would have fallen well within the sphere of activities of the Australia-New Zealand Foundation.

“In Australia, Federal Government funding for what can broadly be described as "cultural relations", including exchanges, sponsorships and so on, is typically provided through bilateral foundations, as we have, for example, with Japan and Korea and used to have with New Zealand. But shortly before I arrived in Wellington the New Zealand Government decided to cease supporting the ANZ Foundation, presumably on the basis that there was no need for it. Our government supported it unilaterally for a time, but in the end inevitably withdrew its support also.

“On a related point, in considering possible joint work on some relatively specialised topics, I wonder if you have had in mind the work of the ANZ Association for the Advancement of Science, which as I understand it covers a wide field and holds regular conferences.”

So there you have

… a proposal, and a reaction to it. We now need to know whether it is to greeted by a deafening yawn or whether there are people prepared to engage in seeing if individuals and dollars can be found to bring it to fruition. Over to you, readers!

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