Last Post? The Aussies and the Kiwis were "mates" once. Since 2001, however, New Zealanders living across the Tasman have been subjected to the most extraordinary legal discrimmination at both the state and federal levels of Australian society. In spite of their rising clamour for equal treatment, New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, has, to date, proven deaf to his compatriots cry for a fair go.
“CIVIS ROMANUS SUM!” “I am a Roman citizen!” That was the cry that echoed from a lonely Sicilian headland two thousand years ago. A cry that roused the Senate and People of Rome to fury when the celebrated lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, described how the corrupt Governor of this wealthy province had treated a humble Roman citizen who had come before him seeking justice. The Governor, Gaius Verres, had ordered the man, Publius Gavius, flogged and crucified. Gavius’s last words, shouted over and over again from the cross, were a ringing declaration of his political identity and legal rights. Three Latin words that invoked the sacred relationship between the Roman state and its citizens. No matter whether the speaker lived in Sicily or in the heart of Rome itself: “Civis Romanus sum!” was a cry that could not be ignored.
As anyone who has ever glanced at the words printed on the front page of their passport will know, that relationship between the state and the citizen remains as strong as it was in the days of the Roman Empire. Those opening the little blue book are enjoined by the New Zealand Head of State to allow “the holder to pass without delay or hindrance and in the case of need to give all lawful assistance and protection.”
But, for the more than quarter-of-a-million New Zealand citizens living across the Tasman those words have acquired a hollow ring. Australian law singles out New Zealanders for special treatment. Not only does it delay and hinder the progress of Kiwis in “The Lucky Country” but it specifically denies them assistance and protection. Our government is well aware of this legal discrimination against its own citizens and yet it does nothing to assist them.
As recently as this past weekend, when the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, met with our own Prime Minister, John Key, in Queenstown, to celebrate thirty years of the Closer Economic Relationship (CER) agreement with Australia, the opportunity to forcefully address that country’s unconscionable discrimination against New Zealand citizens was allowed to pass.
Mr Key’s position is that it ill-behoves a New Zealand prime minister to attempt to dictate to an Australian prime minister how her country should be run. We would not appreciate an Australian prime minister telling us how to run our affairs, says Mr Key, so he’s in no hurry to tell the Aussies how to run theirs.
That would be fine if New Zealand had not, thirty years ago, signed up to an agreement specifically intended to create a single Australasian market. Fundamental to the Australia-New Zealand CER was the acknowledgment that in economic (and, increasingly, in legal) terms the much larger Australian economy couldn’t help but influence the way New Zealanders earned their livings and pursued their careers. Ask a New Zealand farmer about how much – or how little – the big Aussie banks run his affairs. (But be prepared for more than a few hair-raising expletives in his reply!)
Back in 1983, a rising level of Australian influence did not unduly worry most New Zealanders. Since colonial times dwellers upon the great Australian island and its smaller “shaky isles” neighbour to the east have considered themselves members of the same “Australasian” family. We were governed by the same London-based imperial system and we came and went in each other’s territories without the slightest need of passports or visas. At Gallipoli, in 1915, we fought and died together under a single acronym – ANZAC. Mickey Savage, our most beloved prime minister, was born in Tatong, Victoria. Aussies and Kiwis were “cousins”. More importantly, they were mates.
Who else but a mate would have come to the aid of little Johnny Howard by helping him out of the embarrassing mess surrounding Australia’s illegal detention of the Norwegian-protected refugees aboard the cargo vessel Tampa in August 2001? Who else but a mate, this very weekend in Queenstown, would have agreed to receive 150 souls from Australia’s refugee gulags in Papua-New Guinea and Nauru? Who else but a mate (or a bloody fool!) would have struck such a morally repugnant deal without asking for something in return?
Maybe it’s time we just accepted that Australia stopped being New Zealand’s mate more than a decade ago. Time we realised that Aussies no longer even see the NZ in ANZAC. We are welcome to fill the gaps in their labour force, and the taxes Kiwis pay are gratefully received by the Australian Treasury, but when it comes to affording New Zealanders the same assistance and protection as Australians its: "Sorry, Cobber."
A closer economic relationship we may have with Australia, but when it comes to admitting us, without delay or hindrance, as equal participants in their society – forget about it .
Crucified Kiwis in Australia can cry “I am a New Zealand citizen!” until they are hoarse. Their state is deaf.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 February 2013.