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Guest Opinion: Is Kiwi Greatness Just A Façade?

Is Kiwi Greatness Just A Façade?

Dr Alexei Drummond

I thought that we kiwis were different. How foolish of me. It seems that nothing is more universal in politics than the currency of self-interest. Dr Don Brash’s tax cut package and callous disregard for our nation’s founding document appears to have been just the thing that many New Zealander’s had been waiting for.

Apparently many of us were sick of the heavy burden of responsibility placed on our shoulders by the history of this great nation. Don Brash and the National party have implicitly asked the question: “Why can’t we forget our great history and be more like America (and other wealthy nations)?” Well of course we can – if we want to. If we want to we can have lower taxes, just like America. If we want to, we can renege on the Kyoto Protocol, and leave the planet’s worries to some later generation, just like America. If we want to, we can be racially divided and war mongering, just like America. If we want to, vote in Don Brash and the National party. Wait a minute, maybe we already have.

Whether or not you voted for National on the weekend, take a moment to reflect on the country that we live in. Since the moment this little south pacific nation was first formed, New Zealanders have done things differently, and been proud of it. We are a nation of smart innovative people with a distinctive history and culture and a reputation for independence and principles. As a result, our political decisions in the international arena have often reflected the distinctive culture of New Zealand. We have developed a strong vision of democracy and modern society that many other countries aspire towards.

Governments reflect their people, and it is because of the strength of the New Zealand people that past New Zealand governments have been able to make momentous decisions. We have always led the way, be it our nuclear-free stance, our commitment to free trade, or our early adoption of the Kyoto protocol.

New Zealand has been a beacon of hope for people the world around who believe that a country can be nuclear-free, socially responsible, and environmentally aware, while still maintaining high living standards for its citizens. Regardless of salary comparisons, it is difficult to argue that New Zealand is not a great place to live. We have a country of unparalleled natural beauty with a well-educated and healthy society. Why then, does it now appear that we want to throw the towel in?

I have spent the last three years as a biologist doing research at Oxford University, United Kingdom. Although Oxford is a beautiful city with an amazing history, I must admit to often daydreaming about the beautiful west coast beaches of Auckland during my time there. It was therefore an easy choice to move back to Auckland this June as a University Lecturer when the position became available. I looked forward to coming back and I had always thought of New Zealand as a haven for forward-thinking, fiercely independent and responsible citizens of the world. However the first thing I saw driving into Auckland from the airport was a large red and blue billboard with the word ‘Tax’ next to Prime Minister Helen Clark and the word ‘Cut’ next to opposition leader, Dr Don Brash. This didn’t strike me as a campaign that was going to be based on principles and responsible policies. Don Brash’s tax cuts are a giant carrot, that have been used unashamedly by the National party, with full knowledge that it is a shortsighted policy targeting the selfish streak in our society. It worked for George ‘Dubya’ Bush, so why not for Dr Don?

This election seems to have revealed that kiwis are not as different from the people of other wealthy nations as I had hoped. Despite high living standards, unprecedented freedom and privilege, New Zealanders still want more.

Despite hundreds of millions of starving people in the third world (not to mention social inequality in our own country) and alarming human-fueled increases in global temperature, we still focus our aspirations on short-term increases to our own material wealth. It seems that our society, like the rest of the western world, has been largely lulled into the idea that we are always deserving of better.

In fact we seem to demand that our government deliver us constant and unabated improvement in our living standards, regardless of the consequences. Increases in freedom and material wealth have been the definition of the “first world” for the last century or more, so why should we expect otherwise?

The question that we must ask ourselves is, at what price does this endless increase in wealth come? The third world, our natural environment and the global climate have all been hugely compromised by the western world's perverse and insatiable desire for more. The problem with this desire is that the planet’s resources are limited – and we are rapidly approaching that limit.

If the first world continues in this fashion we are going to suck planet Earth and the underprivileged people of the world, completely dry.

I personally would recommend that we kiwis stop thinking about putting a few more dollars in our back pocket and start thinking a little more carefully about the future of our beautiful country and the rest of the planet. I know the future of the globe is a heavy responsibility, but by being members of a wealthy democratic country in an increasingly small world of finite resources, that responsibility becomes ours whether or not we like it. In exchange for the freedom of modern society it is our solemn responsibility to elect representatives that will guide this nation through the difficult times that are undoubtedly ahead. New Zealand has always been a leader and an innovator.

Lets show the world that we are not just another nation of greedy self-centered consumers. Lets live up to our great history, and add to the storied tapestry of our nation by showing the rest of the planet that there is more to life than tax cuts. With cheap non-renewable energy sources rapidly diminishing and accelerating global climate change, a government with a responsible global perspective is needed now more than ever. The current National party cannot possibly provide such a perspective. Because of this, I sincerely hope that National’s near-success in our recent election turns out to be nothing more than an aberration.


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