December 3, 2009

Nine reasons why New Zealand is not Australia

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:00 pm by Chris

Enough is enough. I’m sick of it, do you hear? Every time I turn on the radio or open a newspaper I’m confronted by some idiot politician or half-wit commentator making some stupid comparison between New Zealand and Australia, invariably at New Zealand’s expense. Generally this is followed up with the immortal threat about everyone leaving here to go there. Well, I’ve done that and come back, and I think it’s a bloody stupid comparison. If you want somewhere to compare New Zealand to, try New Caledonia. Or Jamaica. Or even Ireland. Any post-colonial island nation would make a better comparison than Australia, and they aren’t even our closest neighbour (and we certainly aren’t theirs). Here are nine whole significant reasons why Australia is not New Zealand. Anyone who wants to compare the two countries needs to come up with good reasons why most of these aren’t important.

Money

Australia is rich. Not the kind of rich that you get by fiddling with the fine details of your tax system, but the kind of rich you get by being up to your eyeballs in mineral wealth. If you extracted all the iron, aluminium, uranium, and gemstones from Australian soils and dumped them on top of New Zealand, we’d sink down into our subduction zone never to be seen again. And that’s not to mention fossil fuels. I don’t think any ports in New Zealand have freighters lined up out to sea ready to take on cargo, but that’s what happens off Newcastle every day of the week.

Taxes

Unlike all the numpties who witter on about this, I’ve lived in Australia and filled out tax returns there. Australian tax rates are as high as New Zealand’s (I think the highest rate is higher, not that I ever paid that) but you can’t just take that at face value because their system is way more complicated. There’s the tax-free threshold, that effectively slides all the tax brackets upwards. Ordinary wage-earners can claim all sort of slightly dishonest stuff back on their yearly tax return, including the fee of the accountant who helped them fiddle their return the year before (yes, it’s formalised Jobs For The Boys: imagine the stink if someone suggested that in NZ). Being a registered business in Oz is relatively simple and requires no overheads if you’re not actively trading: I’m still registered, even though it’s four years since I last wrote an invoice.

But it doesn’t stop there. Australian life is full of fees that are effectively taxes, even though they go by different names. Under 25 years of age and live in NSW? It’ll cost you about $800 just to register a car. Doing a return trip to Sydney airport from the north of the city will cost you the better part of $20 in tolls (unless you want to go the back way, which will cost you about 3 hours of your life). Australian banks charge even worse fees than New Zealand banks. Flying out of Sydney Airport costs $70 in departure taxes, and $7 per head to use the train station (update for clarity: $7/head is the “gate charge” for the airport station, because it was recently built; the actual train ticket is on top of that). Parks in NSW charge per day for entry (and not just a gold coin donation, either). All of which skims over the largest and most frightening Australian cost-that-isn’t-a-tax:

Liability

New Zealand’s ACC scheme is really very good. No, seriously, it’s really very good. You can argue the details of funding and eligibility all you like, but the real magic of a system like ACC is that it protects individuals and businesses from liability. If you have an accident and injure yourself on business premises in Australia, that business is liable for your medical costs. Even if it wasn’t their fault. Even if you say yourself that if wasn’t their fault: your medical expenses are going to come out of somebody’s hide, so get busy suing the entity with a legal liability. A friend of a friend broke her back riding a horse with a small firm, and was forced to sue them to cover her (considerable) medical expenses. They were bankrupted by the case, and the business no longer exists. When I was labouring on a building site in Sydney, my boss charged me out a $35 and hour, and every hour paid $6 of that to his insurance company to indemnify himself against me getting injured (the scheme is called Workcover and is a shining example of why privatising ACC won’t work). That $800 car registration is composed in large part of third-party injury insurance: potential medical expenses for people in other cars (it doesn’t even cover the driver of the registered car!).

The reason all this ends up being so expensive is that it’s not actually injury insurance, it’s liability insurance: protection from being sued. Guess what the second most litigious state in the world is, after California? Nope, you’re wrong: it’s New South Wales. Where no public scheme for treating injury or damages exists, then morally and financially people have to have a legal right to sue. It’s a terrifying system, it costs a fortune and woe betide anyone stuck on the wrong side of it (see the horse-riding business above).

Federalism

Want bureaucracy? I fell over myself laughing when the ACT party propaganda I got in the mail before the last election said that reducing bureaucracy had been successful in Australia (then I burned the leaflet, buried the ashes at a crossroads, and disinfected my eyeballs, just in case). Here are the levels of governance that most Australians live under: shire (local) council, city/regional council, state government, federal house of representatives, senate. Each of those layers is a real governing body with real power to affect lives. And that’s not counting extra overlapping layers like transport authorities and police (state and federal for each).

In fact calling Australia a nation is almost only true by a technicality. It’s a genuine federation with a high degree of power and autonomy for each state (with the exception of Territories, which are controlled and funded from Canberra: the Northern Territory stays that way because it would go broke as a State). Each state loves its paperwork, and the structure of government means that federal laws and regulations supplement state laws rather than replacing them. Does your brain hurt yet? Bear in mind that while laws are laws, regulations require someone to notice and care in order to enforce them. So while (for instance) Australia has Federal emmissions regulations for cars, 90% of cars on Australian roads would probably fail the tests that were in force when they were new.

If the same degree of autonomy applied in New Zealand, Auckland would have gone ahead and built the original vision of the Harbour Bridge, complete with enough lanes for the next 50 years and provision for walking. That’s exactly what happened with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a hugely ambitious project where they continued building right through the Depression, defaulting on loans from England and running the state on cash when the Federal government came with lawyers to freeze their bank accounts (it’s a fascinating story, I’ll see if I can find the relevant documentary on Youtube). Find it hard to imagine that happening in New Zealand? Me too.

History

New Zealand was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans. Australia has a local culture that stretches back over 40 000 years. Even if you only consider European history, the contrasts between New Zealand and Australia are marked, and quite fascinating. The convict story is well know, of course. What’s not well known outside Australia is how badly prepared those convict settlers were. They nearly died. To be precise, they nearly starved to death: they were so woefully prepared that they tried to plant their crops in April, the southern hemisphere autumn. There’s a whole lot of extra stuff behind this, to do with England’s class war of the time and prison hulks bursting at the seams on the Thames. New Zealand was settled from England slightly later, and they tried to set up a little middle-class English paradise in the South Seas, at least in part via the skullduggery of the Wakefield Company and other profiteers who were, shall we say, economical with the truth.

For all that the Australian federation included (and still includes, actually) provision for New Zealand to join, they were very different places in those days. At roughly the time when the race-based land wars were in full swing in New Zealand, Australia had clashes like the old-fashioned class-war of the Eureka Stockade: both struggles against the English state and aristocracy, if we’re honest, but so different in their context and repercussions. And let’s not forget to compare and contrast the Treaty of Waitangi with the terra nullius bullshit they tried to pull in Oz (I’ll come back to that shortly).

Conservatism

Australia is slow to adopt new things. I’ve mentioned the backwards feeling of Australian rural towns in previous blogging, but the country as a whole doesn’t really embrace change. New Zealand does. Almost every shop in New Zealand has EFTPOS (and it operates in real time), and that happened within about 5 years of it becoming available. New Zealand had (IIRC) the fastest uptake of Internet connections of any country in the world; the very first Internet link came into the country in 1992, and by 2002 well over half the country had access to an internet connection. This is social, too. New Zealand’s Bill of Rights is comprehensive, and came into force in 1990. Australia still doesn’t have a Bill of Rights, nor plans to introduce one as far as I know, in 2009. Religious lunacy has generally been given short shrift in New Zealand public life, but it’s more tolerated in Oz; both Jonathan the Coward and Kevinoseven are publicly Christian in a way that no New Zealand leader has been in recent years.

Xenophobia

There’s no pleasant way to say this. Australia is a rascist country. That’s a fact. I lived in Sydney for nearly five years, and in that time there were two race riots: Redfern and Cronulla. If you follow the news, you probably heard about Cronulla, but you may not have heard much about Redfern. That’s because the rioters in Redfern were brown. Worse, they were indigenous Australians: Aboriginal. They way Australia has treated its native people is truly appalling. Ambiguous legal status until 1967. Subjected to a military occupation “for their own good”, on their own land, in 2007. Lots of people have heard about the Stolen Generation. Fewer people know how the stolen children were selected; they took the kids who looked whiter. Not out of some weirdo idea that those kids would be smarter or should be looked after, no no. They took those kids because they thought they might actually be white, because there was a culture of raping Aboriginal women for entertainment. Within living memory some people in Australia had permits to shoot Aboriginal people. Some did it for fun, without a permit. That’s not to mention the White Australia policy. I’m not making any of this stuff up. It makes me incredibly angry, and it’s one of the reasons I no longer live in Australia.

Wait, I’m not finished yet. Australia isn’t just against you if you’ve got brown skin. The government wasn’t keen on people who talked funny, either. The much-vaunted multiculturalism was a policy of assimilation, not integration. As in “you will be assimilated, resistancee is futile”. Johnny is a Greek but his kids will be Aussies: as it turns out, that’s because Johnny’s kids will get the shit kicked out of them at school if they don’t act like little ocker Aussies PDQ. If you’re ever in Adelaide, go to the migration museum. It’s fascinating and terrifying at the same time (Australia refused entry to Jewish refugees after WW2: oh, the irony, it burns).

This is country that re-elected a Prime Minister on a platform of keeping the brown people out, as recently as 2001. Look up the Tampa affair if you don’t believe me.

Climate

Australia is a desert country. New Zealand is a garden, by contrast. Most of Australia’s land area just isn’t arable, except by extremely extensive stocking (those famous outback farms the size of Belgium, supporting as many cattle as about 2% of Belgium). Droughts in Australia last for years, not months, and they don’t necessarily follow a predictable seasonable cycle. Furthermore, a lot of the land in Australia that should technically be arable is tropical, and history has shown many unlucky punters the hard way that the tropics just don’t support conventional agriculture. You can grow sugarcane or mangos or bananas in the monsoonal tropics, but try and relocate your enterprise from Victoria to the Northern Territory and you’ll find out just how many insects and fungal diseases live in the tropics, and just how voracious they are with no cold season to slow them down. Australia’s tropics are particularly exciting places: a saltwater crocodile in your rice paddy would add an extra dimension of challenge to planting and harvesting.

People who live in temperate countries (like all the commentators comparing New Zealand to Australia) don’t appreciate what really hot places are like. I didn’t live in tropical Australia, but I had the misfortune to try and deal with Queenslanders a few times… don’t expect to get anything out of Queensland over summer. All the denizens are collapsed near a beach, sucking languidly on XXXX(**) and waiting until April to sort out that order.

And then there’s the bushfires.

Wages

Leaving the best until last. Australians wages are higher than New Zealand’s, it’s true. Until recently I would have said that cost of living was higher too, but with the amount of rent I’m paying in Auckland I’m no longer sure about that. Anyway: we hear a lot about closing the wage gap with Australia. No problem guys, do you have a time machine? No? Well you can borrow mine for the purposes of illustrating the point. Swirly FX and Doctor Who music…

Once upon a time, actually for years and years, wages in NZ and Oz level pegged. Not only was the average wage basically the same, but they rose neck-and-neck. There may have been pockets here and there where you could earn a lot more (in the mines, for instance) but basically in 1990 you could hop the ditch in either direction and not expect too much of a pay cut. In 1991 New Zealand got the Employment Contracts Act, and wage growth stopped dead. For ten long years, average real wages in NZ barely moved at all, while Oz went into a huge economic boom and wages continued to grow as fast as they ever had. “Closing the wage gap with Australia” means reeling in that ten-year difference, with interest, at a time when the Australian economy is still going great guns, while New Zealand continues to begrudge every penny that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line of our favourite monopolist… Do I sound unconvinced? I am. Not that Australian politicians are much better, but they don’t need to be. They just need to stay on the horse’s back. If NZ really wants to close the wage gap, we need to catch a horse, and a faster horse at that.

(**)A liquid almost, but not entirely, completely unlike beer.

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16 Comments

  1. socksinmypocket said,

    Inaccurate and unpleasant. I’m tired of your frequent, consistently horrible comments about Australia.

  2. Chris said,

    S-i-P: I wrote this fairly quickly and it come out more sarky than I intended. But the degree of “Oz the promised land” going on at the moment is genuinely driving me batty.

    Anything I tried to write about the current situation in NZ would be even worse… skilled jobs, yeah right.

  3. socksinmypocket said,

    I don’t think you can blame New Zealand’s constant comparison on differences between Australia and New Zealand on Australia. It is a function of New Zealand culture, not Australia’s – so put the blame where it belongs. Calling Australia racist? Pot calling kettle black with a post like that. Sorry mate.

  4. Rich said,

    Fully true, and why we in NZ shouldn’t try and “catch up”. Australia isn’t even a particularly good place for most business – with less than 30 million people in the middle of nowhere, it’s a backwater. If I was starting a serious large business, I’d do it in Europe or the US, not NZ or Australia.

    NZ is also a very different culture to Australia. We have a post-colonial culture where indigenous and settler traditions are integrated. Australia has a purely settler culture like the US and Canada.

  5. socksinmypocket said,

    I do agree that comparisons between the two countries are not helpful and often inappropriate – I just think your argument of why is not good.

  6. Joe said,

    Hi there Zorro,

    Interesting information, very nicely written! I think the bit on racism may not be balanced enough… and the bit on climate, who cares? Some like it hot, some like it dry… especially those who grew up there.

    Could you please state at the beginning of each section the corresponding bit of NZ-broadcasted pro-Australian propaganda you are replying to? I think that could help put the spirit of your essay in perspective, for those who are not subject to it, and particularly those in Oz who can interpret this as a resentful anti-Aussie tirade (which I hope was not your intention).

    Cheers,
    JP

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by neerav bhatt, Terri Cowley. Terri Cowley said: Oz and NZ really are different, you know https://leftofthesettingsun.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/nine-reasons-why-new-zealand-is-not-australia/ […]

  8. Chris said,

    JP: I’m not responding to specific articles with each point, rather trying to paint the picture that these are two different countries and shouldn’t be treated as equivalent. New Zealand isn’t, can’t, and won’t ever be a little Australia.

    I think climate does matter. It affects the way people live, and the decisions that they (and their politicians) make. Just for instance, if you talk about fossil fuels for home heating in Scotland, that’s life-and-death stuff. In Australia it’s more of a luxury.

    The racism bit may not be terribly balanced, but the state of Australia’s race relations is a festering sore that should be exposed to the cleansing effects of sunlight as often as possible. I feel that way about New Zealand’s environmental record too, just between you me and the whole wide internet.

  9. Guff said,

    Some, largely uneducated thoughts on the subject.

    With regards to the aboriginal people of both lands; given half the chance the settlers of NZ would probably have been just as happy to see the Maori go the way of Australia’s aborigines – they tried their damndest. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for us the Maori were just too well versed in the art of fighting. Hence the relative amicable end: the Treaty of Waitangi.

    ACC really is great. I’m sorry but the crap that goes on in Australia is just plain ridiculous. If you’re drunk and dive into the surf at midnight, the council shouldn’t have to pay for your folly because they didn’t forecast that a dynamic geomorphic feature might be there to break your fall and your neck. Likewise if you trip over a stick taking out the rubbish bins. The council is not responsible. The ability/need to sue over such issues creates a culture where people think they can get away with suing council for car washing expenses because they parked a car under a council tree and a bird shat on it – park it in the garage (all true stories). The litigious approach can also force people who would otherwise throw scorn on the idea of suing down a road they would rather not travel.

    As much as I love Australia, the country, and many of the people I know, I cannot see myself living here permanently. I don’t see a positive future in Australian cities. The PM recently stated that he was pro-population growth which would lead to 35 million people in Australia and 7.5 million in Melbourne by 2050. I’m sorry Krudd, that’s just not responsible. Then there is the water issue. There just isn’t enough of it (NZ is incredibly lucky in this sense), and no politician in Victoria (at least) is willing to do anything sane about it. Don’t get me started on Tony Abbott…
    NZ on the other hand. Our politicians are still wankers (think Keys and Mt Aspiring National Park) and our environmental legacy is crap. But some how I think we might weather the ups and downs of climate change a little better (out of luck more than anything else).

    When it comes to Australia, NZ has an unnecessary inferiority complex. Most Australians I’ve talked to love NZ and what it has to offer. They don’t look down on NZ – at the very least they tend to not even think about it that hard. I’m not too sure I could say the same for some kiwi attitudes towards Australia.

    Oh and I reckon I could just as easily find some backwards hicks in either Australia or NZ.

  10. Guff said,

    Oh and lets not forget the available research funding, Marsden cf. ARC (11% vs 25% ish respectively). And other education opportunities…

  11. Chris said,

    Ah, I probably should have mentioned water under “climate”. Then again this is already long enough.

    The education and research funding (or rather, lack thereof) in NZ is something I’ve been meaning to write a post on, but it’s just too depressing when it’s my own career I’m talking about.

  12. Chris D said,

    On the whole i think that was quite well put and in some areas perhaps a little understated and restrained given as you’ve already pointed out the speed with which you wrote the piece and the obvious agitation which prompted you to write it.

    In my observation (a non Australian who has lived in Aus for nearly 20 years) the Australian social position re race relations could not be further from the NZ position. The NZ intent is one of action and redress as opposed to the Australian position which is one of denial, suppression and a virtual apartide (spelling ?).

    Chris D.

  13. Loving Aust said,

    Australia rocks, get over it, no one even knows where NZ is on a map! Not to mention we are sick to death of you lot freeloading when you come over here on a stupid visa for NZ. Get of Bondi Beach and get a job at home!

  14. Oscar said,

    Hmmm.
    Okay, I have a few things to say abut this article.

    Climate.

    Your comments about climate are totally irrelevant as it’s totally subjective to different peoples different preferences.
    Another thing,
    I have farmer friends who are on extremely fertile land. Black soil. Some of the wealthiest people I know are farmers.

    Xenphobia.

    Your comments about Australia in this section I found most appalling.
    Let me start with your opening line: “There’s no pleasant way to say this. Australia is a rascist country.”
    I’m now going to ask you if you actually know what ‘racism’ is.
    Do you?
    I’ll tell you.
    Racism in it’s most simple form, is the generalisation of a ‘race’.
    Now, I’m just going to go ahead and say this because “There’s no pleasant way to say this.”
    If you’re not making one of the BIGGEST generalisations of an entire population then I’ll eat my hat.
    I grew up in this country and I’ve spent my entire life here (18 years, that’s 13 on your 5 mate). I went to school here and I can tell you now, I had Asian, Indian, Italian, African, South African, Lebanese and European friends and we all got along well just fine.
    How dare you insinuate that they would all get bullied. I was bullied relentlessly in my first 3 years of high school and I’m WHITE.
    In fact, I was picked on by a few Lebanese kids.

    These jaded, out f touch and ignorant generalisations I find quite incredible.
    Maybe you should think a little more before you post.

  15. Oscar said,

    .

  16. Chris said,

    My last two commenters seem to have gone to a bit of trouble to track down a post almost two years old and spout knee-jerk self-justification in response. Comments on this post will be close henceforth.


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