Helen Clark - Chapman Lecture Series
Rt Hon Helen Clark
INAUGURAL LECTURE IN
The Chapman Lecture Series,
in honour of
Emeritus Professor Robert Chapman
Political Studies Department
University of Auckland
University of Auckland
Monday, 20 November 2000
It is an honour to be invited to give the first in what I'm told will be an indefinitely long annual lecture series, the Chapman Lectures.
The series has been named in honour of Bob Chapman, the founding Professor of Political Studies at Auckland University.
In naming the series the Chapman Lectures, the title can also encompass the work of Noeline who over all those years assisted and supported Bob in his work.
In an unpaid capacity, Noeline clipped the newspapers and recorded the news and current affairs day in, day out. That work formed the basis for the Noeline Chapman archive in the Political Studies Department – supplemented, of course, by the ceaseless flow of parliamentary material from Jonathan Hunt for the last 34 years!
The series is designed to recognise Bob's considerable academic achievements, especially in the study of New Zealand politics and in bringing the results of his academic study to the wider public.
My lecture, I was told, could be on any subject within Bob's range of interests, which could mean just about anything, as Bob's interests have been so wide.
So, let me begin with some comments on that wide range of interests, and how, applied to the teaching and supervision of students, Bob's work, and that of the Department he founded, came to influence several generations of students. My hypothesis is that through education in political studies, students, especially graduate students, gained a thorough grounding in modern history and political structures, systems, and ideas which enabled us to understand and analyse the world around us and adapt to the rapid change which has been a constant in our lives ever since.
Bob's own academic background was in history, in my view an important sister subject to the study of politics.
The study of current political systems and thought is not productive in a vacuum. To me, it is important to know the background and the context of contemporary political systems and events.
Bob's original research was for his MA thesis on the subject of the 1928 General Election. His fascination then was with three party politics. One can only imagine how much more fascinated he is today with multi-party politics on a grander scale under MMP.
That thesis directed him to what I believe was always his first love in the study of politics: psephology – the study of elections.
In the pre-computer age Bob worked by hand and meticulously with the electoral results analysed in micro detail on small white cards.
He published on the 1960 General Election in the company of Austin Mitchell and Keith Jackson.
Then as the television age dawned in New Zealand, Bob took his charts and knowledge onto the screen as an astute commentator on voting trends.
He certainly instilled in me a lifelong interest in polling booth results and in the official publication, known as the E9, in which the results for every booth in every electorate are faithfully recorded for each election. Of course, MMP makes that more interesting too as we examine the discrepancies between votes for the party and votes for the party's candidate.
Bob developed a profound knowledge of the players in the New Zealand political system. He knew particularly the Auckland members of Parliament of both main parties – and he knew the key party activists. Indeed he probably knew us better than we knew ourselves.
He was always interested in the whole economic and social context which formed the backdrop for the political contest. Indeed his forte was his ability to see the big picture – as well as his interest in dissecting its components in minute detail.
His generation, my parents' generation, grew up and reached maturity in what were both bleak and inspirational years for New Zealand.
Their parents were the World War One generation who, after its devastating effects, faced first the depression of the early 1920s and then the more catastrophic depression which followed Wall Street's 1929 crash.
Labour was elected in 1935, and with astute management and the help of an economic upswing brought new hope to the country. But within four years New Zealand was at war again with Germany and the next generation was in khaki.
The war ended with the dawn of the nuclear age, followed by the Korean War and four decades of the Cold War. New Zealand prospered initially in the 1950s, but from the mid to late 1960s entered a downward economic spiral which, with fits and starts, has continued more or less to this day.
Against this background, it is no wonder the study of New Zealand politics with Bob acquired a certain fascination.
He himself had a deep interest in, and abhorrence of, the development of nuclear weaponry.
He also took a deep interest in Maori politics and society, personally teaching a course on it and maintaining a wide range of contacts in Maoridom.
The way in which the teaching and study of politics developed at Auckland University very much reflected Bob's wide interests and his desire that we should see modern politics, international affairs, and political ideas in their context.
Those of us who went right through to Masters level and beyond with him and the Department developed a very wide general knowledge, something which has been a great asset to me throughout my career. Fellow students have made their mark in business, education, the law, diplomacy, the civil service and community affairs – in all of which a broad education is of enormous benefit.
For me, our universities must always be a place where a broad general education can be obtained and not just a narrow vocational training school.
Yet the increasing costs of university education in the 1990s did put pressure on students to get a meal ticket and to veer away from study for the sheer pleasure of knowing more about the world we live in. One hopes this trend can be reversed before the nation descends into a state of ignorance.
Sometimes there are disturbing signs of how bad things have got. In a survey conducted around the end of the millennium, New Zealanders were asked to name the most tragic event of the twentieth century. From memory, the death of Princess Diana tied first equal with the Great War. Tragic as Diana's death was, it cannot compare with the horror of World War One or of the holocaust.
Findings like these convince me that we need more of the broad general education Bob Chapman stands for right through our school system as well as in our tertiary institutions.
In the study of politics at Auckland University, we learnt not only of our own society, but also of the political systems, structures and values of others.
My basic knowledge of the American constitution and political structures comes from my first year course in 1968. America's structures have endured to this day, unlike those of France and the Soviet Union which we also studied that year. Indeed the Soviet Union is no more – and all the text books have had to be rewritten. Few, if any, predicted that in 1968.
In my time as a student, I also had the opportunity to study China and Japan with Robert Taylor, Eastern Europe with Barry Gustafson, and, with, Ruth Butterworth, Britain, Africa and political communication. Peter Aimer led us through political socialisation and the inculcation of political values and beliefs; John Prince through theories and methods, and Bob himself taught us about the politics of Black America.
Apart from the intrinsic interest of the subject matter, three things stand out for me about my education in political studies in the 1960s and 1970s.
The first was the small group teaching through the tutorial system. While year one and two lectures were to large groups, every week we had the privilege of broadly reviewing and discussing the lecture material in small groups with a tutor. This required us to be articulate and analytical, and to think for ourselves and on our feet.
The same pattern followed through in the smaller third year and MA courses.
No doubt the economics of university education make it hard to provide teaching in this depth these days. Yet that small group work was the icing on the cake of our education.
The second feature was the encouragement to us to read widely. It was my first year at university which forced me to read newspaper editorials, relatively few of which given the rather conservative nature of our press I've ever agreed with. But understanding and appreciating the reasons for the points of view of others is also a useful skill to have in politics – and indeed as a citizen in a democracy.
Thirdly, we were encouraged to participate in political debate and affairs in the widest sense. Some became active in political parties, some in student affairs, and some in political interest groups. A democratic political system of course depends on people being prepared to participate, and encouraging that was an important part of our education. Some of us of course took that to greater lengths than others!
The skills I gained, the knowledge I acquired, and the networks I became part of during my time studying politics at Auckland University have all had a marked influence on my adult life and on my ability to perform effectively in one of the country's more demanding occupations.
One of Bob Chapman's key achievements, as I've already noted, was to bring the results of academic study to the wider public. He did that through his television commentary, his radio broadcasting and his occasional contributions to the print media.
Let me then make some personal observations about current events in my lifetime which have affected our country; observations which are informed by informed by my academic education in political studies and the insights it gave me into the New Zealand political culture and society and our place in the world. My fascination is with how much New Zealand has changed in fifty years in its economy, society, and international orientation. It is not surprising that that change ahs had a marked effect on the shape and form, of the political system.
I was born in and grew up in a country which had full employment. A good deal of that employment was to be found in a large state sector and in secondary industry which grew with the assistance of tariffs and import controls. The primary sector which earned most of the export revenue employed relatively few people and little of its export product was elaborately transformed by processing.
Our exchange rate was fixed at a rate rather higher than the $US dollar, but foreign currency itself was rather hard to come by with access to it controlled by application to the Reserve Bank.
In this 1950s and 1960s New Zealand, Maori had a low profile and issues concerning Maori were seldom debated. For years New Zealand put up with excluding Maori from All Black tours to South Africa because the apartheid system would not accept them. The "No Maori, No Tour" movement eventually achieved the dubious victory of having Maori tour as honorary whites. Only in the 1970s and 1980s did this become a major issue.
New Zealand was a loyal United States ally. The "where Britain goes, we go" approach from the Boer War to World Wars One and Two was applied to the United States relationship after 1945. We sent troops to Korea, Malaya, and Vietnam, all in the Cold War context of combatting the spread of communism. By and large the public accepted the first two commitments with equanimity, but our involvement in Vietnam over time caused deep division and debate. That was a formative experience for many in my generation.
The 1960s began to shake that cosy post-war New Zealand. The crash in wool prices in 1967 rocked the economy. The 1970s brought more dramatic change. Britain entered the EEC, changing our export market for ever. The oil crisis in 1974 started New Zealand's long decline into significant unemployment. The deregulation brought by Rogernomics produced a contemporary South Seas bubble, but that gave way with the 1987 Wall Street crash to a long period of economic uncertainty which still has its challenges today.
Dramatic events also affected our foreign policy. The French brought their nuclear testing to the South Pacific in the mid 1960s, provoking hostility to nuclear weaponry which almost two decades later saw New Zealand declare itself a nuclear-free zone, and, as a result, saw the United States declare this loyal ally a mere friend. The Vietnam War had also taken its toll on that relationship. Norman Kirk's government brought the New Zealand troops home from Vietnam. That government also recognised the reality of modern China, giving diplomatic representation to the People's Republic and exchanging ambassadors with it.
By the mid 1980s New Zealand was finding its own way in the world – nuclear free, semi-aligned, and in the mainstream at last of international opinion on the evils of apartheid South Africa. From that time hence, we've played a significant role at the United Nations on disarmament issues, and in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Our relative independence makes us a friend to many and a foe to few, outside the small clubs of coupsters in countries like Fiji.
The post World War Two era saw New Zealand engage for better or worse in many ways with the nations of Asia. I've already mentioned the commitment of troops to Korea, Malaya and Vietnam, following the substantial commitment against Japan in World War Two itself.
For decades we maintained forward defence in Asia with troops permanently stationed in Singapore. Through the Colombo Plan we educated a good number of Asian students who went on to be leaders in the public and private sectors of their countries. We built strong relations with the nations of ASEAN and North Asia.
The 1990s saw a major push for even closer relations with Asia, based on their economic potential. The new organisation of APEC was joined with enthusiasm, Asia 2000 was formed with government funding and encouragement, and more active involvement in the affairs of the Asia-Pacific region was sought.
At home the far reaching changes in the economy in 1980s and 1990s and in social policy in the 1990s took their toll in many ways. Unemployment rose significantly from 1987/88 through to 1991/92 and only in very recent figures has gone below the six per cent mark for the first time in thirteen years. The rapid removal of tariffs saw the rapid decline of the manufacturing we had. The state sector shrank to become a shadow of its former self. Widespread unemployment and cuts in the social safety net produced deep cracks and poverty in the society. The impact was felt most by the Maori and Pacific peoples' populations, but not exclusively.
Maori meantime had undergone a renaissance from the 1970s. The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal in the early 1970s, the land march in 1975, the dramatic events at Bastion Point, and the ability to take Treaty claims back to 1840 were all steps along the way. New Zealanders under forty scarcely remember a time when Maori and Treaty issues were not in the news. Adjusting to the more assertive Maori presence hasn't been an easy process for many New Zealanders.
It's not surprising that these last two to three decades of turbulent economic and social change have had a big impact on our political system.
Initially they produced big swings in the two party system with the landslide victories of 1972 and 1975, and in 1984 and 1990. But over time concern about the political system grew along with concern about the country's the poor economic circumstances. The late 1980s saw growing disillusionment with the first-past-the-post system and its winner-take-all governments. That disillusionment surged again in the early 1990s, leading to a massive vote for change to the electoral system in the 1992 indicative referendum, and then a narrow, but nonetheless absolute vote for MMP in the 1993 binding referendum.
Our politics then went through a rollercoaster ride as parties and politicians repositioned themselves for the new system.
As the leader of one of the two main parties fighting to retain major party status in a more complicated political environment, I had first hand experience of that.
What MMP did was expose divisions which had always been present in the body politic, but had been constrained by the two party system. MMP produced a party system more akin to that of continental Europe with Greens, a party to the left of Labour and a party to the right of National, and parties vying for the centre ground, but without much room to stand on given that it has been the traditional battleground for National and Labour. Attempts to found Christian parties and ethnically based parties, including Maori parties, have not brought electoral success to date.
The first term experience of MMP was ghastly in anybody's books. This second term is so far much more promising. Indeed the survival of the system probably depends on it being so.
Meantime, New Zealand faces other challenges in the wider world.
Around that world, people are debating globalisation and its impact.
It was the theme of the Progressive Governance Leaders' meeting I attended in June with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and other centre left leaders.
It was the theme of the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in New York, attended by most of the world’s presidents and prime ministers.
It was the theme of the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Brunei from which I have just returned.
My views on globalisation are straightforward: love it or hate it, you can’t stop it. It is an inexorable process and it is not a new one.
What makes globalisation different in this century is the pace of change driven by technology and new discoveries. The new poor are those who lack access to knowledge and the new technologies. But, if we are smart, the digital divide can also be a digital opportunity – in our own country and internationally.
Globalisation is rendering borders irrelevant. We compete in one big market for skills and investment. Our challenge is to establish a firm niche in that market, to equip our citizens with the education and skills to secure that niche, and constantly to advance it through innovation. Standing still is not an option. New Zealand has done that for too long and seen its living standards slide from near the top of the OECD ladder to near the bottom. That’s sapped our confidence in ourselves.
Our future prosperity depends on us being wired up, innovative, and accepting no limits on our potential. It is not a case of failure to adapt meaning failure to thrive. Failure to adapt may mean failure to survive for business, and failure to survive as a first world nation for the country as a whole. We can't even contemplate failure - but what form might our success take?
In ten years I would hope to see New Zealand increasingly interconnected with the wider world, and right up to date with the latest technologies. New Zealanders would be not only adapting and adopting other people’s ideas and technologies, but we would also be greater innovators ourselves. That will be the difference between first world and second world status for us.
New Zealand would be made up of a series of global villages attracting and nurturing talent. More than a decade ago Michael Porter wrote of the potential for clusters in the New Zealand economy. Those clusters would see us drawing together our public sector investments in education, research and infrastructure with private sector investments in new product development, financing, production, and marketing.
We could be confident about the quality of life in our global villages. We do have cosmopolitan lifestyles for those who enjoy them, we have a wonderful natural environment, - and we are a safe haven in an often troubled world. That means a lot to skilled migrants looking for a secure place for them and their families to live in.
The seed bed of our economy would be a dynamic small business sector which is enterprising and generating new ideas for new products.
Ours would be a dynamic trading nation with world leading products in our areas of specialisation.
Trade opens up far greater opportunities than our small domestic market can ever offer. It enables our companies, like our Dairy Board, to be global traders. My aspiration is to see our global traders want to keep New Zealand as their base because New Zealand is their source of innovation and their inspiration. Their being here, their confidence in New Zealand, should attract others to come and bring opportunity for our people with them.
What’s needed to drive this new New Zealand? As the Maori proverb says: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people. It is educated, skilled, creative and enterprising people who are going to drive New Zealand's future as a nation. Our universities have a huge role to play in this future.
In this future I see a special role, not only for science, research and technology, but also for arts and culture as a seed bed for the creativity and lateral thinking which drives new ideas.
In the 21st century, people who can think, analyse, design, dream, and express themselves creatively will find enormous opportunities open to them in the world of work and business.
The extra funding this year for arts and culture were designed to stimulate New Zealand's development as a unique and creative nation, not only for the intrinsic benefits which flow from that, but, also because of the very real economic benefits as well. The flourishing film industry, the emerging successful new media, design, fashion and software industries, and the potential of the contemporary music industry are all proof of the economic potential New Zealand has as a creative nation.
An innovative and creative New Zealand should see its people earning substantially higher incomes, and driving unemployment lower.
In turn that means having the capacity to finance good public and social services and infrastructure, conserve our natural and historic heritage, create vibrant urban and rural communities, and further boost the arts and cultural sides of our lives.
How to adapt to globalisation and the new technologies are issues pre-occupying all nations. Most appreciate the potential of dynamic markets to create wealth, but it's also apparent that they do not create equality of opportunity and access to a good life. That can only be done by social investment.
I have just returned from the APEC Leaders’ Summit where the need to balance free markets and free trade with programmes for economic, technological, and social development is now widely accepted. New Zealand can not only be part of, but can also help lead that new consensus. Indeed ours can be a unique contribution as we provide a bridge between our own aspirations to retain first world living standards and our common interest with developing countries in gaining access for primary produce.
We are indeed living in a new world – and one I could not have imagined as I began my university studies in 1968. What was a small, relatively closed economy and society, a sleepy hollow, has become a much more open society and polity and an economy exposed to global forces.
The knowledge I acquired and the analytical skills I was taught in the 1960s and 1970s have helped me to see a path for New Zealand through the shoals created by changing times. Change is a constant. All that is new is its increased pace.
What I ask of university education is that it does for today's students what it did for me: to produce inquiring minds, provide the foundation of knowledge, the skills to analyse it, and an interest in life long learning and application of knowledge. Bob Chapman's outstanding contribution to political studies in this university was to make all that possible for generations of students.