AMALGAMATION OF AUSTRALIA and New Zealand is now approaching the final stages. The remaining barriers to a complete union are predominately societal: we still have two currencies, two national social security regimes, two national parliamentary systems and administrations. Even our social security organisations have been obliged to make reciprocal arrangements to follow our increasingly integrated populations. There are also regular exchanges among members of our two parliamentary systems. Just about all other aspects of our lives and activities have already been combined, harmonised, mutualised, assimilated, co-ordinated, co-operated and amalgamated. Another important barrier was removed in 2009, with the agreement to dismantle immigration and customs controls between our two countries, opening up a vast new domestic zone that spans the Tasman Sea.
We now represent, ipso facto, a single community with internally shared values and aspirations while continuing to maintain the external appearance of two separate, independent countries. This is a luxury which will inevitably become more cumbersome and obstructive as the years go by and increasingly more difficult to justify and maintain.
It seems it is now essentially a question of the preservation of identity. We, Australians and New Zealanders alike, are proud of our individual identities. We firmly believe we are very different from each other. Each of us cites the fact that his country is unique in that it is composed of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society including Indigenous people, Europeans and a rapidly growing Asiatic population.
According to our respective politicians the question of identity is the one single factor which, above all else, is said to constitute the ultimate impediment to full unification of our two countries. We must therefore carefully and thoroughly address this question before proceeding any further. What is it that makes us so different from each other? We all know there is no point in asking a Mexican, an American, a Chinese, an Indian, a Slovakian or anybody else for that matter. They would not see any difference at all. If there are any differences, we are the only ones capable of perceiving them.
We must admit there are very few differences of identity to be observed among those of us who are of European descent. That is equally true for those of us who are of Asiatic descent. The most obvious differences are to be found among our Indigenous peoples, the Maori and the Aborigines. The Maori represent about 14.6 per cent of the population of New Zealand and the Aborigines about 2.4 per cent of the population of Australia. However, something like 73,000 people of Maori descent live in Australia and roughly five hundred Australian Aborigines live in New Zealand. Also, there are almost as many New Zealanders living in Australia as there are Aborigines and eight times more New Zealanders living in Australia than Australians living in New Zealand. One million Australians visit New Zealand each year and nearly one million New Zealanders visit Australia each year. To complete the picture, 23 per cent of New Zealand’s population happens to have been born outside the country, one of the highest rates in the world. When you look at it carefully, what you see is a huge, growing melting pot in which it is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish any major differences in the inhabitants from one side of the Tasman to the other.
It is also difficult to imagine how the unification of our two countries could, in any way, modify the ancestral identity of either of our two Indigenous peoples. It has not so far, despite the migration and intermixing that currently prevails. Both would continue to enjoy the same freedom to live their lives and perpetuate their cultures exactly as they do today, whether they choose to live in Australia or New Zealand. This does not mean that best practices as regards the rights and obligations of our Indigenous peoples would automatically apply on both sides of the Tasman on amalgamation. It would only be a question of time before they did, except as regards the specific dispositions of the Treaty of Waitangi. This Treaty, concluded by the British Crown and the Maori chiefs in 1840, by which the Maori ceded the sovereignty of New Zealand to the United Kingdom in exchange for protection and guaranteed possession of their lands and considered to be the founding document of the independent State of New Zealand, would be deemed to continue without interruption in the event of amalgamation. However it would only apply to New Zealand.
There can be no doubt that every individual on this earth is different from every other individual but within our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities we manage to live together in fairly good harmony. We are all different – but we are all equally different. Our two countries have this highly valuable quality in common. Both countries enjoy an exceptionally unique egalitarian culture. Contrary to what some politicians and others would have us believe, we would not suffer the sort of traumatism they often evoke in respect of loss of social identity on unification. If there were to be any loss of identity it would not be due to amalgamation but to the spontaneous integration of our two peoples which is already largely accomplished. Though perhaps instead of social identity, what they really mean is national identity. Both our nations are constitutional monarchies and it remains to be seen whether in either country we would wish to continue perpetuating our long standing constitutional subservience to the British Crown.
Generally speaking, politicians and other would-be leaders of opinion who invoke the objection of loss of identity in the event of amalgamation are also staunch advocates of replacing the current constitutional monarchy with a republican regime. They want the best of both worlds: their independence and what they feel is their unique identity.
Our politicians and social and economic leaders have taken amalgamation just about as far as it can go without overshooting their general mandate to act in our name. In order to respect the democratic principles of both countries, we now need to provide them with a specific mandate if we want them to complete the job of amalgamation. Failing this, the artificial facade will remain in place.
That is not the sort of question we can leave the politicians to decide. We need to think carefully and decide if we want a full amalgamation or not. We can retain the names of our two countries and join them together: Australia and New Zealand. We can all have Australia and New Zealand passports; we can combine our national flags and emblems – they are already similar. We could even retain our two national anthems if we wish, though some of our inspired musicians and poets might like to propose something new for the occasion.
THE RIGHT TO mint money is an important symbol of the independence of nations. New Zealand being originally part of the Colony of New South Wales, we both had the same currency until 1910 when Australia began issuing its first silver coins following federation. New Zealand issued its first coins in 1933. Since then, our two currencies have virtually grown up together. Both countries use the same currency valuation mechanism, the TWI (Trade Weighted Index) a basket of currencies of our respective countries’ major trading partners. It would be simple to combine the two baskets and calculate the exchange rates for conversion to a new, common currency which we could perhaps call the Anzac Dollar (ANZ $). Whether it be from a purely monetary or economic point of view, there are no major obstacles to full monetary integration. Our economies converge quite favourably.
Full monetary integration would be facilitated by amalgamation. The new nation could merge our two Reserve Banks together on an equitable basis. The global size of the new nation would provide greater resistance to economic shocks and give us more clout in financial markets. The larger economic space would facilitate the internal redistribution of resources in the event of catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes, foot-and-mouth disease or swine flu, providing increased security at lower cost.
The adoption of a common currency would be just the start: there is still some important harmonisation to be implemented as regards the regulation of our banking, insurance and financial institutions. This is particularly important in New Zealand where the banking sector is 89 per cent controlled by Australia’s big four banks: ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac. It is a one-sided, lopsided problem as there are no major New Zealand banks in Australia. That makes it more difficult to find common ground for an agreement. We would both need to make a special effort in order to find an intelligent solution. Needless to say, amalgamation would be an added incentive.
DOES AMALGAMATION MEAN that each of us loses his independence? As it has already been largely implemented, we have, in fact, already lost a certain amount of our independence. However the trade-off has been extremely positive for us both, as it would be if we were to adopt a common currency. Some politicians and leaders of opinion nevertheless continue to express concern. It is not too difficult to imagine why. What they are really concerned about is that some of them, having already lost a fair amount of their independence, want to hang on to what is left. This may not in fact be in their country’s best interests, or indeed their own. They would, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, better serve their country by looking up to see where they could climb rather than looking down to see where they might fall. Instead of clinging to hopeless illusions they would be better off reaching out to take hold of solid reality.
The forces at work are all positive. Our politicians have, by and large, served our countries well in bringing us together in an orderly fashion with absolutely no fuss, almost without us even realising it. We are now reaping the benefits of that but taking it for granted, as though it were evident that things should be that way. Nothing was evident. It has all been a lot of hard and patient work carried out over many years and our politicians must receive full credit for it. It is certainly not the time to abandon them to their fate. Greater co-operation and harmonisation between the two countries have meant less independence for them. We must, in return, assure them of our full support over the final stages of amalgamation and do whatever we can to secure a satisfactory outcome for them.
There is no reason why we could not all be independent together. At least we would be stronger and our independence better assured. The independence of a nation depends on its security – and there is far greater security for two fish swimming together in the Tasman Sea rather than each one going its own way. Instead of make-believe, as is the case of New Zealand at present, the independence and security of both our countries would be for real.
Participating in an amalgamated government would be similar to rugby players of different nationalities participating in a Barbarians team, except in this instance, instead of a one-off match, the players would have a three year contract, renewable once or twice. But with the passing years, the Barbarians team would eventually become the home side. We would have to ask our most talented artists to find the right combination of colours for their jerseys on the basis of the green, black, gold and silver of our two countries. The captain and the key players would have to be chosen on their merit but, equally important, the members of the team would have to correctly reflect the populations they represent, as equitably and as loyally as possible, throughout the community.
There is no reason why anybody should lose more independence than they have already lost. All the players, without exception, would be expected to move onwards and upwards, unless, of course, they preferred to let somebody else step in and take their place. It could be that some may have difficulty integrating a parliamentary Barbarians team, adapting to the new playing field and to the new rules of the game. But there is nothing negative about it. It is a challenge, a challenge to play in a vastly bigger stadium, at international level with much more responsibility that largely compensates whatever so-called independence may possibly have been lost in the process. As for those who prefer to continue to participate in the New Zealand parliamentary system, there is no reason why they should not do so. However, it would no longer be the national body. Its jurisdiction would be limited to New Zealand.
Historical precedents to the current amalgamation process in Australia and New Zealand are rare; Trinidad and Tobago provide one example. These two British island colonies were amalgamated in 1898, at about the same time New Zealand was taking the decision not to join the Australian federation. The two islands are thirty-two kilometres apart; Trinidad measures nearly five thousand square kilometres while Tobago is just over three hundred. Total population is about 1.3 million and GDP roughly US$30 billion. It has large reserves of oil, and is the fifth largest producer in the world of natural gas. It is one of the most dynamic countries in the Caribbean, with a flourishing tourist industry. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the islands were inhabited by various indigenous Amerindian tribes: the Nepoya and Seppoya in Trinidad and the Kalinago in Tobago. The country became a republic in 1976 and is a member of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations. The capital of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is Port of Spain, on the island of Trinidad. Neither of the two islands’ inhabitants appears to have suffered from lack of independence or lack of identity due to the amalgamation. On the contrary, both have retained their identity and reinforced their independence. It is interesting to note that the first operation was amalgamation, followed by the instauration of a republic.
In 1976 Trinidad and Tobago replaced the Queen of England as the head of state with a president elected by a special electoral college composed of members of the two houses of parliament. The president then named the prime minister chosen among the members of parliament. The new republic maintained its parliamentary system of government, with a thirty-six member House of Representatives elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a thirty-one member Senate of which sixteen are named by the prime minister, six by the leader of the opposition, and nine independents by the president. While this system apparently works to the satisfaction of Trinidad and Tobago, the comparative size, complexity, history and culture of Australia and New Zealand may prevent this particular model becoming anything more than a rare example of a successful and harmonious amalgamation.
OF THE FIFTY-THREE Commonwealth members, thirty-one are now republics. Republics have been allowed to be members of the Commonwealth since 1949. Ireland declared itself a Republic ten days before the date of effect and was excluded. It never re-applied for membership despite the fact that it is eligible to do so.
It is interesting to recall that New Zealand was officially part of the Colony of New South Wales for over half a century from 1788 to 1841. Its representatives actively participated in the discussions on federation with the representatives of what would become the six Australian states to form the Commonwealth of Australia.New Zealand, in the end, decided not to join the federation.
Clause 6, of the Preamble of the Australian Constitution reads as follows:
The Commonwealth shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.
The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.
Original States shall mean such States as are parts of the Commonwealth at its establishment.
The Hon Sir John Hall, together with Captain Russell, represented New Zealand at the first conference on Australian Federation held in Melbourne. Having later decided against membership, Hall was quoted as saying that the 1,200 miles of sea that separated New Zealand from Australia were ‘1,200 reasons’ not to join the new nation. In fact, that was only one of the reasons why New Zealand decided against membership. There were about half a dozen in all, back in the 1890s, none of which would apply today. Even the question of distance has to be put into context. Hall had to make the trip by sailboat; today it is a two-hour flight, exactly the same as from Brisbane to Canberra. Today we can communicate almost anywhere in the world in real time by telephone, email and fax. We can participate in video conferences. None of this was possible in Sir John’s time.
If we are to measure the distance between Australia and New Zealand, we should take into account the fact that Australia is not just one large land mass. It has a total of 8,222 islands within its maritime borders – one in particular, Norfolk Island, is about half way between the Australian mainland and the North Island of New Zealand. It is an Australian Territory with its own parliament like the six states of the federation. It has an area of three square kilometres and is home to nearly two thousand people. The island receives forty thousand visitors a year. Lord Howe Island, the popular tourist resort which is inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list, is about six hundred kilometres east of Sydney and also nearly half way to New Zealand. As for New Zealand itself, the country has sovereign rights over a marine area that is fifteen times larger than its land area. Australia and New Zealand are so close to each other our maritime boundaries overlap. We signed a treaty on 25 July 2004 agreeing on a common boundary that is now recognised under international law. Sir John Hall, no doubt, would have been amazed to learn that our two countries actually share a common border on the continental shelf under the Tasman Sea.
It should also be noted that unlike the six other colonies that joined the federation in 1901, New Zealand did not hold a referendum on the question before deciding against membership. The political leaders of New Zealand chose to ignore this fundamental democratic principle and took the decision themselves. The door, nevertheless, continues to remain open for it to join the federation whenever it likes, without the prior agreement of the six Australian States. This is quite an extraordinary facility which has no precedent anywhere else in the world. It places New Zealand in an extremely comfortable position. Sir John was evidently a very shrewd negotiator.
It took Australia roughly ten years to thrash out an agreement on the federation and it was only in 1999 that the first referendum was held on forming a republic. Despite the negative result, public debate has been continuing sporadically ever since. As in the 1890s on the question of the federation, exactly the same debate has been taking place in New Zealand. And as on the question of joining the federation, New Zealand has not yet considered it necessary to consult its people by referendum on the question of forming a republic. The only explanation that has been forthcoming came from one of its eminent politicians: ‘we should not be doing it simply because Australia is doing it’. No one could disagree with that. The corollary, of course, is that New Zealand should not refrain from doing it simply because Australia is doing it. It is highly unlikely that Australians would be in any way offended if they did. On the contrary, they would surely consider that to be the most appropriate course of action to be taken under the circumstances.
In reality, the debate in New Zealand on the question of a republic has been of excellent quality. The arguments that have been developed have nothing to do with simply copying Australia, but have always been quite sound and well informed. One of New Zealand’s most highly reputed political journalists, writing for the New Zealand Herald, has published a number of well documented articles on the subject. The general public appears to be following the debate through the traditional media and the internet with an attentive eye. It would not be at all surprising if the New Zealand electors were invited by their government to vote on the question of a republic at about the same time, if not before, the Australian government were to take a similar initiative.
IN AUSTRALIA, A 2010 survey of one thousand readers of The Sun Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald found 68 per cent of respondents were in favour of Australia becoming a republic. More than half the respondents said Australia should become a republic as soon as possible while a third said it should happen after the Queen dies. This should, no doubt, reinforce the opinion of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose past declarations have consistently been in favour of a republic. Similar support for a republic has been recorded in New Zealand. Perhaps electors on both sides of the Tasman will be heading for the polling booths on exactly the same issue within a few months of each other.
The next question we need to ask ourselves is: do we really need two republics, or would it not be sufficient to have just one that we could share? After all, even if we complete the amalgamation, we do not actually have to live together. Each of us can stay on his or her own island if he or she prefers. Perhaps there are ‘1,200 reasons’ for us to live together as a single nation while continuing to enjoy lots of room, comfort and privacy.
For any country to be independent it needs to be capable of assuming its own security. Neither Australia nor New Zealand has that capability and will not have it in the foreseeable future. That is why we both signed the ANZUS treaty with the United States following World War II. Since then, New Zealand has fallen out with the United States, having refused to allow an American nuclear submarine to enter its territorial waters because of its anti-nuclear policy. The US retaliated by suspending its obligations to New Zealand under the ANZUS treaty – leaving New Zealand highly vulnerable in the event of hostilities and largely dependent on Australia for its security.
The political leaders of New Zealand have had ample time to reflect upon these developments and take stock of the situation, and presumably they have elaborated a plan for the future and mapped out what they consider to be the best route for the country. However it remains to be seen if they can persuade the electorate to walk in that direction. Unless, of course, they consider that issues such as amalgamation and a republic are too important to leave to the people to determine and impose their own decisions in the same paternalistic fashion as their ancestors took the decision not to join the Australian federation in 1901.
The all important question, however, should not be ‘do you want New Zealand to become the seventh State of the Commonwealth of Australia?,’ as it was well over a century ago. If that were the question who could doubt that the reply would be exactly the same today as it was then. The only sensible and respectful proposition which could and should be made to our two peoples is, ‘do you want our two nations to amalgamate and form the new single nation of Australia and New Zealand?’.
Whatever happens, Australians and New Zealanders have a vested interest in each other’s decisions and a right, if not an obligation, to participate in the debate on both sides of the Tasman. Our fates are inextricably entwined.