Monday, December 19, 2005

Guest Blog on New Zealand Politics 2005: Foundations Are Laid for Changes

Country Bumpkin, who knows a thing or three about such things, opines on the year in New Zealand politics:
Sitting down here at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, with a total population about the same as that of Sydney, it's easy to try and ignore what goes on in the rest of the world. Mind you, it's not as easy as it was before the days of satellite TV and the Internet, but New Zealand politics have a way of taking an independent turn, never more so than when the USA is re-writing the geopolitical rule book in places distant from here.

For twenty years or so, we have had more than the usual number of centre-left, Labour, governments. They have strong views about such things as nuclear weapons, invading foreign countries, economic nationalism (such as the US habit of paying farm subsidies on a lavish scale when New Zealand farmers have managed nicely without them since the mid-1980s), and so forth and so on.

The consequences for our foreign policy are not always pretty. Once upon a time New Zealand immediately participated, boots and all in big wars, like World numbers I and II. Many Kiwi lives were given, and along with our Australian cousins we remember them in public holidays. Nowadays the willingness of New Zealanders to mix it with the big boys is somewhat cooled down. We keep an SAS detachment in Afghanistan, we had a detachment of engineers installing water purification systems in Basra, we send troops and police on peacekeeping missions in places like Timor and other Pacific countries. We also vote with the majority in the United Nations, and manage to behave like harlots in that corrupt and ineffective body most of the time, especially when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.

Put all this together with a booming economy now slowing for the first time in a decade, and you have the foundations for some political changes.

In 2005, it very nearly happened. In the September general election, the National Party surged back from historic polling lows, but not quite enough to win the Treasury benches. Under our electoral system, Mixed Member Proportional or MMP for short, small parties again hold the balance of power, as it seems they always will unless the electoral system is changed some time in the future, as well it might be. The philosophical differences between National and Labour are traditional. National say that people are entitled to keep the money they earn and would reduce taxes; Labour say taxes must be redistributed by a benevolent State to the poor and the indigent.

All this is connected to the wider world. The riots at Cronulla in Sydney in the last week have focused Kiwi minds again on immigration. There is a substantial Muslim population in New Zealand, but no sign of the tensions which have afflicted Britain, Germany, France, Australia, and others. But what is our immigration policy to be from here on in? And how is that policy to be framed in a world where the new kind of warfare is terrorism? It matters, socially and economically and politically.

Can New Zealand stand back and let the USA see if it can democratise Iraq, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the others? Indonesia, a functioning democracy and relatively benign Muslim entity, is only 9 hours flying away. It is also the only place New Zealanders have been killed by terrorists. So far.

The answers to such questions have not been provided in the last more or less relaxed political year. But here, as in the US and Britain and the EU, old assumptions about "left" and "right" and "liberal" and "conservative" will soon have to be adjusted under the impetus of events not yet able to be foreseen.

In the meantime, we're all getting very rich as our property values go though the roof. But what goes up . . .

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