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Copland Memorial Lecture

Issue date: 
Thursday, 2 August 1990
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

As I stand here there are two Māori sayings or whakatauki ringing in my ears. One says he kuku ki te kainga he kaka ki te haere which means a pigeon at home but a parrot abroad. The other says ka kore ano e kitea he korero e noho ki raro and even more pointedly that means if you cannot find anything to say sit down.

I hope I have got something to say and I can only trust I am neither a pigeon at home nor a parrot abroad. I rest content with another saying ko te kai a te rangatira he korero, the food of leaders is oratory.

It is a pleasure to be with the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia. Doubtless you have economists in your midst. One thing you can say babout the current breed of economists in my country is they are all orators. Whether they are leaders is another question. But their opinions are constantly sought and constantly given. And they seem to get younger every day.

I am Governor-General of that country touchingly described by one of your journalists as New Zealand: a lousy neighbour, Left wing ostriches from land of bludgers bowl underarm at Ockers.

Furthermore, I am not an economist. For 20 years being a Bishop has been my trade and in my time I have also taught history and theology. I would share the viewpoint of Thomas Jefferson that "the God who gave us life gave us liberty."

The first of all moral maxims is to think clearly and while we must always value informed comment, experts have a tendency to take power unto themselves and reduce great issues to debates among themselves. But economics like theology is an inexact science, and as God does not want to be left alone with the theologians, so economics is too important to be left solely to economists.

The economic debate is always about values and priorities, as we seek to encourage a social order favourable to alertness, inventiveness, discovery, compassion and creativity. It is vital for economists to take part in that debate, but their basic task is not to make our choices for us, but to tell us the cost and the financial implications of the policies we intend to follow.

This year New Zealand is marking 150 years of its history since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The Treaty is a reminder that New Zealand began not with an invasion but with an agreement between the Crown and the Māori people. It is a country which as been shaped by axe and fire. John Logan Campbell, a gloomy Scotsman who profited more than most, wrote, "We have lived to see the great fern wilderness reclaimed, to have seen the infant settlement unrobe itself of its first primitive garments of brushwood and breakwind huts and tents, in which we were dwellers, and outliving its bushmask and wild appearance, enter on the path of progress."

In other words, we in New Zealand did in the 19th Century what the world says Brazil should not do to its rain forests now. But Nature is presenting the bill in many different forms; the cost of commercial fertiliser, the expense of dredging rivers that flood their banks because of soil erosion far upstream, the depletion of the fishing resource, the depletion of the ozone layer and, on a wider scale, malnutrition and hunger.

The Christian tradition does not provide a good basis for responding to the current agonies of the earth, because humanity's task has been seen traditionally as taming and harvesting. What we now have to do is to fuse the demands for economic justice with the demand for ecological sustainability. You can't divorce the struggles of people for bread and dignity, from the well being of the sea, land and sky on which they are totally dependent. Social justice and physical justice go hand in hand. We won't repair nature if the poor of the earth are denied.

There are two things I want to say. First, if we don't exactly plunder the earth, we give few signs of really caring for it. In New Zealand the indigenous Māori spirituality speaks to this point because it ties a person back into the natural order. Māori are brown greenies. If you take a tree, then your beliefs about Tanemahuta, the God of the Forest, control that action. If you take a fish, you give the first one to Tangaroa, the God of the Sea. The extraction of the resource is controlled by two factors: the ability of the people to process what they have taken (i.e. don't be greedy) and the need to cull the resource (e.g. a shellfish bed) in order to improve it. If there is an ethic, it is an ethic for future use, not for preservation as such.

Secondly, one of the pressing problems is the failure of economic systems to deliver. Both socialism and capitalism are characterised by great organisations and bureaucracy. The socialist societies of Eastern Europe with their emphasis on political controls have not been able to sustain the means of life for their citizens. Some are only too eager to say the alternative is capitalism characterised by the free market economy and democratic values. But market forces, as we are learning, don't necessarily operate freely and, as I will discuss later, democracy does not work for everyone.

Everyone seems to be more interested to know the salary of the Chief Executive then to know the turnover of the company. The task of the manager is to take charge of market forces so as to minimise costs and maximise benefits for the owners of the capital. J. K. Galbraith maintains that we live at a time when power has passed from the provider of capital, the capitalist, to the professional manager.

In the current economic circumstances and with improved technology, the result in New Zealand is unemployment which is at an uncomfortably high level and has a permanent look about it. But as I move around New Zealand society, it is obvious we can all be victims of the market economy. The poor who no longer have power and control over their own lives are on the receiving end of other people's judgments. The implication is they are not simply poor or unemployed, they are lazy and, potentially, fiddlers of the system. On the other hand, the rich are at the risk of idolatry, possessions litter their horizon and they believe the essence of life it to get and not to give. Their temptation may be to fiddle their tax returns or worse. In New Zealand the recently established Serious Fraud Unit of the Justice Department has more than enough work on its books. Public perception of the professions has altered. Standards of competence, honesty and social responsibility can no longer be taken for granted.

Adam Smith talked about "the invisible hand", the spirit of the market, which in our time seems the very opposite of what in the Christian tradition is called the Holy Spirit. The spirit of the market takes life from the vulnerable but the spirit of God gives life to all.

But when the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand met to discuss the present state of the Closer Economic Relationship between our two countries, the result was a Joint Statement which was significant for what it marked as achievements and what it foreshadowed for the future.

"In brief, from now on there will be no barriers to free trade in goods between Australia and New Zealand and the protocol on trade in services is to be reviewed before the end of the year. Tariffs, import and export restrictions, tariff quotas and import licensing have gone. Neither country is to pay incentives to exporters and we promise not to dump goods in each other's backyards. The present stage in the harmonisation of our business laws now makes it possible for Australia and New Zealand courts, in some competition law matters, to sit and take evidence in the other's jurisdiction.

The Tasman is not to be a legal, administrative or financial barrier to the free flow of commerce. There will be a joint study of a possible single aviation market. Programmes to reduce Tasman shipping costs should prove effective.

Our commercial future lies in open economies trading with each other in a free and fair way. Building on successes since 1983 the intention is to continue along the path of the liberalisation and integration of our economies."

Subsequent statements gave little away. Bob Hawke said he and Geoffrey Palmer agreed that political union was not their objective, while Geoffrey Palmer commented that New Zealand is going to be confronted with issues that came much closer to the heart of what governments regard as their sovereign prerogatives.

Now New Zealand may be Australia's fourth largest trading partner, and Australia New Zealand's largest, but the reaction to the Joint Statement was remarkably quiet. Such has not always been the case. Sport, the frigate debate, anti nuclear policy, the numbers of New Zealanders in Australian prisons and dole queues have recently given us plenty to talk about. Traditionally Australia and New Zealand have a close relationship, but that does not stop us from poorly understanding the other who is then used as a convenient Aunt Sally. Dame Edna Everidge's companion on stage is silent Madge Alsop from Palmerston North. It is interesting to work out who needs who in that relationship. As Keith Sinclair, a New Zealand historian put it, "the ties that bind and the bonds that chafe."

Over the years we have talked about political union but more from this side of the Tasman. Sir George Grey at the National Constitution Convention of 1891 said New Zealand is there "as a damsel to be wooed without prejudice but not necessarily to be won." Geoffrey Palmer in 1988 was more forthright: "De facto union is a probability and it would be a very fine way to proceed."

You must be careful how you phrase your thoughts. My predecessor, Sir David Beattie, predicted Australia-New Zealand political union within 25 years. Mike Moore, our Minister of External Relations and Trade, replied "The same logic would argue for one Ireland and one Germany - and would take as long." Mr Justice Kirby uses the example of Newfoundland which after 400 years joined the Canadian Federation in 1949. A better example would be the Nordic states where a sense of independence and national identity is not compromised by close co-operation.

In a recent address to the National Press Club of Australia, Geoffrey Palmer said "The commercial and financial relationship does not exist in a vacuum. It is founded on assumptions about the way Australians and New Zealanders see and relate to each other." What are some of those assumptions? To start with we are preoccupied about the same things.

  • we have fears about defence arrangements and we are asking questions about ANZUS;
  • we are anxious about the social unease and the tensions cause by large scale unemployment;
  • we wonder how a dominant white society and its institutions can respond successfully to the claims of indigenous people;
  • we doubt whether the institutions of the welfare state are safe in the current political climate.

We have the same rivalries, issues, politicians, the same universal racism. Australians and New Zealanders are both worried about who is running the country. Is it the politicians or big business and if it is big business, is it ours or some overseas company?

Denis McLean, formerly the New Zealand Secretary of Defence, put his finger on another assumption or "familiar echo" as he called it. "In my wanderings around Canberra it has not been hard to catch a familiar echo; the wide world is out there somewhere beyond those blue hills. It is the same standing on a windy hilltop behind Wellington looking at the ocean all around. In Singapore, Tokyo or London (to name the capitals of three other island States) there is no such feeling, yet it is prevalent in Australia even in a sophisticated place like Sydney. It is something to do with the loneliness and emptiness of societies not yet at ease with themselves or their place in the world."

McLean warns us "the idea that Australia and New Zealand are now countries just beginning to get an idea of themselves is in danger of becoming our oldest tradition." But here we are anchored off the edge of a vast and dynamic region and we have to keep on making hard decisions about where and how we belong. McLean speaks of an Indonesian cartoon showing an Indonesian talking to an Australian (and it could have been a New Zealander) saying "Am I talking to a Westerner of the South or a Southerner of the West?"

The way we answer that Indonesian question and affirm our regional identity may be affected profoundly by our ethnic mix and this is where we vary. Because of massive European immigration after World War II, Australia has become less British and more European. Because of Polynesian immigration and a high Māori birth rate, New Zealand has become less European in complexion. To most urban Australians the indigenous Aboriginal population forming 1% of the total is marginal and invisible. In New Zealand, Māori are 12 to 15% of the total but every Pakeha New Zealanders is daily aware of a proud, distinctive and alternative culture.

Multiculturalism in Australia has something to do with the strength and confidence to cope with social and racial diversity. Biculturalism in New Zealand has something to do with taking the emphases of other cultures into our respective value systems and constructing mechanisms which will deliver health care, education, justice, in a manner appropriate to the consumer.

My responsibilities as Governor-General stretch from Tokelau, north of Samoa, to the South Pole. When I travel in the Pacific, Maoris come with me. They are a Pacific people and for a Māori it is a profound experience to retrace ancestral journeys, move around the great ocean Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa and visit other parts of Polynesia. Common names pop up all over the place and the myths and traditions are closely related. The Māori dialects are part of the great Polynesian language and the kinship of the language is reflected in the kinship of the people.

I believe the cultural bridge can become part of a wider political and economic bridge and help New Zealand as a whole cement its regional identity. It means too the issues of the Pacific and Polynesians are part of our domestic as well as regional agenda.

Māori feel uncomfortable that Western cultures have allowed economy to mean only money economy with the implication that value and success are equated with profit. Māori feel instinctively that we should judge economic health by what we are doing for each other and what we are doing with the land and sea given to us in trust.

My own tribe, Te Atiawa of Taranaki, has protested about the flow of sewage and industrial waste over local shellfish beds, thus rendering them inedible. My relatives took their complaint to a government appointed tribunal and described their traditional and spiritual prohibition against mixing wastes with food, and how products of the land such as human waste must be purified before being returned to the sea. [Auntie Ina's remark.] We do not allow bathing near the shellfish beds, overturned rocks must be replaced and the rituals to ensure calm seas must be carried out. We are encouraged by the effort of people to clean up their act. Our shellfish beds are now less polluted than they used to be.

Māori in New Zealand or Aborigines in Australia are examples of indigenous people who suffer from the hardship of being unrecognised by world opinion as legitimate but dispossessed claimants of their traditional territories. In fact, 'indigenous' can be a loaded word. To some it implies descendants of settlers can never put down roots in a new land and all subsequent settlement is but a continuation of the original but unjust colonisation.

The truth is colonisation has always been an unhappy process whose echoes never stop sounding. We who are the heirs to it must realise that in the jurisprudence of international law a course must be steered between two antagonistic maxims: ex injuria jus non oritur (law does not arise out of wrong, or might does not make right) and ex factis jus oritur (law arises out of the facts, or might is right).

Indigenous people are realists who know decolonisation is not possible. The descendants of settlers no longer have another country to return to. Because they are a minority, indigenous people cannot turn the principles of democracy to their advantage. They must find their future in a country where the descendants of the later arrivals are dominant. Their task is now to seek some degree of self determination within the existing state. This is what is happening in New Zealand as we grapple with the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi. Out of this dynamic search will come something which is quite distinctive, even unique.

Let me develop this a bit further. There is a story of a busload of Australian tourists who were travelling around the Northern part of New Zealand with a driver who was a Māori. His commentary went like this: "At this spot the British forces were beaten by the Maoris;" later on "the British were forced to retreat from this hill;" and a few miles further on "this is where the Maoris won a notable victory." Finally one of the passengers lost his patience and said "Didn't the British win anything?" The answer was clear-cut. "Not while I am driving this bus."

James Belich, a New Zealand historian, discusses the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict. "The European monopoly of the higher mental faculties was the inner tabernacle of Victorian racial attitudes. To question it was to question a whole world view. Consequently, and because the British dominated the historical record, they told it as they believed it." In other words, they drove the bus. The ideology with which a group understands the world around it and its own place within that world, helps to determine their assumptions, narrative and conclusions.

In New Zealand, we are not beginning to look at those ideologies. Revisionist historians such as James Belich are able to uncover what has been suppressed or subsumed in the mainstream narrative. I have two examples of the skewing of history and subsequent revision and they both come from Australia. One is the history of women in early Australian settlements. Quite simply, women did not appear in the histories at all other than a mention as wives or servants. When records were found they appeared in reports written by sea captains, commissioners, governors, clergymen - all male. It was not until the 1970s with the work of historians like Miriam Dixson, Anne Summers, Patricia Grimshaw and Kay Daniels that women became visible in the early history of Australia. The scholars reassessed the eyes through which events had been observed and the assumptions of the observers, they searched for alternative accounts, family histories, albums, pictures, work songs, business accounts, graves, medical records, land transactions and so on.

The second example concerns a remarkable novel Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior by the Aboriginal writer, Eric Willmot. The City of Sydney was built on Pemulwuy's land. Like others, he resisted the British rule in Australia in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. It is Willmot's assertion the British not only sought to destroy Pemulwuy physically "they and some of their descendants attempted to obliterate the very evidence of his existence. Until recently, Pemulwuy's name has never appeared in any white Australian history, yet he lives on in the unpublished records of his enemies and in the minds of Aboriginal Australians." Willmot concludes in words which may strike you as very harsh. "It was apparently not in the interests of a crookedly intent or racist establishement to promote such parts of the Australian story. If this is true, then those people have stolen from generations of Aboriginal and now Aboriginal Australians a heritage as important, as tragic and heroic as that of any other nation on earth."

Australia and New Zealand are countries which remain different even though we have much in common. We are heirs of different colonial histories which we can now understand better. The development of a closer economic relationship gives us the option of hanging together or hanging separately in a world where both are struggling with issues of equity, identity and race.

Last updated: 
Thursday, 2 August 1990

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