Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Zealand & the case for New England self-government

I spent last weekend in New Zealand. As we drove into Auckland I remembered my grandfather's first impressions all those years ago. I quote from the story I wrote of his life.

In April 1929, Dave and Pearl travelled to New Zealand on an private visit; it was their first visit overseas. The trip was a busy one, for Drummond took the opportunity to travel widely throughout the Dominion inspecting schools and welfare institutions, farms and civic facilities. He was impressed by what he saw. He told the Northern Daily Leader that New Zealand, unlike New South Wales, had big provincial cities which could and did act as centres of culture. New Zealand farming techniques were also excellent, although as in the North the gradual disappearance of horse traction had created real problems for farmers as a result of the destruction of the oats market. He was less impressed with the New Zealand school system which, he thought, had little to teach New South Wales. However, even here he brought back school plans which he thought could be modified for use in the hotter parts of the State: 'I have long been impressed by the fact that the small type of schools... is entirely unsuitable during the warmer months of the year', he wrote to the Department.

Since the Drummond's trip to New Zealand much has changed, yet some things remain the same.

Today New Zealand's population is about that of Sydney. Despite that, New Zealand has five airports with international connections, NSW one. New Zealand has multiple cities capable of hosting international rugby matches, NSW has three.

Despite the growth of Auckland, New Zealand has remained a relatively decentralised country whereas Sydney has greatly increased its share of the NSW population. New Zealand has eight publicly funded state universities, NSW nine. Those universities are attracting a growing share of the international student marketplace, whereas the NSW share is declining. Despite the growth in tertiary education in NSW regional centres, New Zealanders across the country have easier access to tertiary education than do those living in NSW and especially regional NSW.

New Zealand standards of living are statistically lower than Australia's. The country is less wealthy and has struggled to maintain certain activities. Yet compared to the economic hollowing out inflicted on New England over the last forty years, the country has done remarkably well. There is poverty in New Zealand, but nothing compared to the poverty traps that have appeared across parts of New England.

Taste New Zealand New Zealand has been through some pretty tough times over the last forty years as the country lost its traditional markets. Yet the country responded with a degree of imagination not seen in Australia and certainly not in NSW.

New Zealand simply couldn't afford the nostrum that the role of Government was simply efficient service delivery even though New Zealand pioneered many of the administrative ideas later introduced into NSW under the Greiner Government that then became entrenched in NSW official thinking. When your economic back is against the wall, you have to search for new things.

This photo shows a simple but delicious hamburger provided as part of the Rugby World Cup taste New Zealand experience.

There is much soul searching in New Zealand about that country's lack of economic progress. Yet considering the economic turmoil it experienced, it has actually done pretty well, certainly a lot better than New England.    

In 1900, New England's population was around 60% of New Zealand, today it is roughly a third and still dropping. 

Those of us who have argued for New England self-government for so many years have made the simple plea that self-government would allow us to unleash our own creativity, give us a chance to stand or fall by our own efforts. It's hard to see how we could do worse than the Sydney Government has done. In any event, it would then clearly be our own fault!


Mark said...

On my visit there last year, I myself made many comparisons between the North and New Zealand. Travelling in an old tram in central Christchurch before the quakes drew many "what ifs" in my mind.

Many of my questions were answered in the our colonial heritage namely penal settlement and the exploitation of natural resources to fuel wealth for far away colonial grandeur.

I only have to walk across my street in the coalfields to be told of the opportunity lost in 1967 of possible self government. That is from an ex coal miner at the time of the plebiscite.

I need to stop now.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Mark. I am conscious that I have not followed up some of our new state work. Time to get going again.

Mark said...

Sorry for my frustration Jim, it wasn't a dig on you or anyone else, just what I felt when I was over in NZ at the time and the opportunities lost.

Jim Belshaw said...

Yes I know, Mark!