Friday 18 January 2013

Australia's Coolies

Second-Class Non-Citizens: Australia's and New Zealand's Nineteenth Century immigration policies discriminated viciously against the Chinese, denying them the same political, economic and social rights as those enjoyed by their workmates and neighbours. In the Twenty-First Century, Kiwis seem to have replaced the Chinese as Australia's second-class non-citizens - to the ultimate advantage of New Zealand's employing class.

WE HAVE BECOME Australia’s coolies. Openly discriminated against by state and federal authorities, New Zealanders and their children are officially denied the same social and political rights as their Australian neighbours and workmates. Nearly half-a-million Kiwis living in Australia are subjected to taxation without representation – the same injustice against which Americans rose in revolt in 1776. But so downtrodden and spiritless have we become that every year more than 40,000 of us voluntarily submit to the same sort of racist restrictions our government once imposed on Chinese immigrants.
Why are so many New Zealanders willing to endure such naked discrimination? And why has their government been so abject, so supine, so utterly useless at defending their rights?
The answers have much to do with the relative strength of the New Zealand and Australian economies. Overwhelmingly, those boarding the airliners for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth are economic migrants. Australian wages are between thirty and fifty percent higher than those paid for similar work in New Zealand – in some trades and professions twice as high. For scores of thousands of under-employed and under-paid Kiwis, the lure of a decent pay-packet is simply irresistible.
But economics is not the whole explanation for the huge numbers emigrating to Australia. People do not abandon their homelands lightly. To leave behind family, friends, colleagues and all the familiar and reassuring geography of hearth and home one must be driven by factors of equal or even greater emotional force. Fear, shame, resentment, greed and lust will drive people across borders; but so, too, will the conviction that their homeland is not only unable to offer them and their loved ones a life worth living, but also that, really, it doesn’t care.
The creation of such a deadly malaise is never attributable solely to the failings of those in authority. Our rulers remain in place because we are content to leave them there. So, while governments may be the immediate cause of the deep disillusionment that drives citizens from their shores, there must also be a significant portion of the population which is, if not gratified, then at least untroubled, by their departure.
In New Zealand’s case the culprits are not hard to find. One has only to identify the class of citizens who have gained the most from the economic and social settings driving so many of their compatriots across the Tasman. Overwhelmingly, it is the employing class which is most untroubled – even gratified – by the level of emigration.
Changes to employment law dating back to 1991 began the uncoupling of New Zealand and Australian wage rates. The steady reduction of the social wage paid to New Zealanders in the form of state-funded health, education and housing services, which had begun ten years earlier with tax and spending cuts, was thus rendered even more destructive. Other economic “reforms” led to the wholesale deindustrialisation of New Zealand and a dramatic rise in structural unemployment. The social and political consequences of these changes were devastating, but without the safety-valve of emigration to Australia they would also have been unsustainable.
Had Kiwis not been able to escape across the ditch, unemployment levels in New Zealand would have generated an electoral backlash of sufficient force to undo the neoliberal “reforms” from which employers had gained so much economic, social and political power. But, with neither of the major political parties willing to incur the wrath of the employing class (just a little of whose power the Clark-led Labour-Alliance Government experienced in the  “Winter of Discontent” of 2000) the changes required to convince New Zealanders that their government was, indeed, committed to helping them make a better life for themselves were never introduced.
And so the exodus continues. To paraphrase King Richard II’s contemptuous response to the defeated remnants of the Peasants Revolt of 1381: “Coolies we are, and coolies we shall remain.”*
Until such time as we find the courage to build again a nation worth loving – not leaving.

* When the vanquished rebels enquired of their King whether his promise to abolish villeinage (serfdom) still held, he replied: "Villeins ye are still, and villeins ye shall remain."
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 January 2013.


Gaetano said...

The Employment Contracts Act 1991 was a pivotal moment in New Zealand employment history. The moment when the CTU needed to call a general strike, but its response was piecemeal and ineffective. When they tried to bring in the same sort of legislation in Australia the unions there took much stronger action and managed to stop the progression of similar legislation in its track. Not that I am trying to dump on the CTU. It was just that their approach was too weak (a tactical error) plus the Australian union movement was/is much stronger.

Shona said...

And we have so many fragmented families as result. The stress of commuting across the ditch to work is now into it's 3rd generation for some of us.Any new zealander with a functioning brain knows what we have lost as a culture, as a society and as a nation through this economic madness. Try chatting to your friends and neighbours about the disaster of the kiwi diaspora,and they simply don't want to know!
Happy New Year Chris. Your posts have been well worth reading over the summer.

Paulus said...

The ramifications of the agreement made in 2001 concerning welfare has really come home to roost as more New Zealanders emigrate to Australia.
Nothing has altered since that agreement only the numbers needing support to their new life in Australia. It is the next generation where the impact is felt.
After all they pay taxes like any Australian, but this is not helped by the media there who are very anti New Zealanders (and anybody else that suits them) who often do a far better job than Australians.

Sparky said...

I left this fair country in 1996 after the bulkl that went down where I was working. The company was sold off and the new owners (Singapore) manager told all of us that they were cutting our pay by 50% and if we didn't like, there was the door.
I went home that night and rang a colleague in Europe who had a job for me there as soon as I could get on the plane. Within a week I was in the Czech Rep. earning more than I could ever get here!
Only been back for holidays since.
The Lange/Douglas govt. ripped the heart out of NZ and the Bolger/Richardson govt the soul. We have never recovered from that.
I'm now back because I have retired and I was determined to get a return on all that tax I have paid over the years.
Friends, we have the Govt. we deserve!

Can't rely on Labour, they are the Nats in disguise and nothing will change. This country needs an Opposition party that is diametrically opposed to the right-wing pansies we have in there now.
We have a gambler as PM and a bunch of very shady "Businessmen" running the show who don't give a monkey's toss abiout the country or the people.

peterpeasant said...

Was it only 2008 when Key and the NP promised to match OZ wages and salaries?

Easy drive kiwis out of their country to OZ.

See we have matched the wages.

What else would one expect from an ex Wall St trader or an ex Treasury plonker?

so there is no welfare help for kiwis in OZ. There is not a lot here.

Given the ravages that both the LP and the NP have done to the industrial relations legislation in the past few decades is it any surprise that kiwis are coolies on both sides of the Tasman.

It is all part of CER and globalistion.

I am sure that China will be delighted to find available coolies in OZ and NZ.

We will put up less resistance than Tibet.

John Key and the National Party have sold this country as willing slaves.

Brendan McNeill said...


The exodus to Australia was just as great under the nine years of the Clark Labour Government, and they could hardly be called 'neo-cons' or in the pocket of the 'employer classes'.

Australia is indeed the 'lucky country' whose present wealth is largely maintained by the Chinese. The tide may turn when that bubble bursts as it surely must.

It's no use looking for someone to blame other than ourselves. If we want higher living standards, then we need to educate and work and innovate our way to them. We cannot redistribute our way to prosperity.

The Flying Tortoise said...

It's such a shame our politicians are so short sighted that they can't see they'd be so much better off in Australia...

ak said...

Quite right Gaaetano. The CTU at the time was pathetic. But to be fair, the Douglas/Bassett Quisling gang and terrorists had, with the help of their masters in the media, totally brainwashed the workers by then. Support for a general strike would have been tepid.
Remember the incessant "we're so far ahead of Australia!" and "within three to five years!" bullshit from Douglas every five minutes?

Never forget that a filthy little gang of scum destroyed this country. But mercifullly they're nearly dead with their knighthoods and their legacy is eminently reversible.

Encourage our moko to stay away in the meantime. The current feinter is a competent caretaker of appeasement/Labour Lite, and he's on the way out too.

Kia kaha brother: they've had their last pathetic hurrah and the pendulum is swaging back with an unprecedented venom. If ever there was a justification to cast the moneychanger out of the temple, this is it. Bugger age. If I could hold a brick, I'd be the first to smash this stinking, selfish filth.

Siobhan said...

I beg to differ. I found the first half of this post gratuitously emotionally charged. I know many Kiwi's living in Australia, and I don't hear them whine about significant discrimination.

When NZers emigrate to another country, they do so knowing they will not instantly be awarded citizenship of said country. My two professional sisters and their husbands in Melbourne hardly think they're "coolies". They, like many other NZers, are glad of the opportunity and ability to find their place elsewhere in the world, should it suit them.

I also understand that there are consequences of being an immigrant, having emigrated to the USA myself.

Funnily enough, two of us are returning to NZ shortly, so that we can bring up children in NZ. We understand the trade off of living in NZ, and we're prepared to live with it.

I'm not knowledgeable about govt policy through the 90s and it's effect. I know that I don't jump on the bandwagon of blaming this and that government. I think often the ramifications of govt policy on the economy and the labour force is difficult to intelligently analyse because of the myriad of influential forces.

And I don't think that this country has been destroyed. Sure, we can do better, but geez, easy on the vitriol.

I have heard more constructive posts from you, Chris. I look forward to them.

M. Lee said...

I am a young-ish Kiwi living in Sydney about five years.

On the one hand, I am grateful to be able to work in Australia, as I don’t think my skills would allow me to migrate to England or the U.S., for example.

On the other, I am conscious that if I lose my job, or if I were to have an accident, I am on my own.

While I don’t know about “coolie”, I would say “guest worker” is maybe a term that well describes the status of most New Zealanders in my situation.

Anonymous said...

So Brendan,what is the purpose of govt? Should governments have no responsibilty and not use levers which can improve stability and economic prosperity?

It's all very well saying that we should all be more innovative and hard working, but do you actually believe that is the whole of the picture?

It's a nebulous thing to say, to take one view or the other. Their must be a point when society becomes to degenerated to respond to government initiatives.

The people, as Marx said, are the motive force in history (being a faith orientated person I believe there is obviously more to it than that).

We can say, if you want to take the logic further, that we should leave it all up to providence.

But we have to get together as human beings and sort out rational solutions between ourselves.

Surely providence would look kindly on that.

Alex said...

One of the most interesting aspects of the phenomenon of economic migration is that it creates social chains between two societies. We are getting to the point, with so many New Zealanders in Australia, that it is not a huge risk for many people to move there as they will have a ready made support structure in place should something go wrong. Friends, whanau, old workmates, almost everyone in New Zealand has people in Australia now. It isn't such a risk to go over when you know that if things go pear shaped there will be couches to sleep on and friends who may be able to club together to get you a ticket home.

I would be very interested to know what the rate of remittances from Australia to New Zealand is, my guess is that many Kiwis over there are doing so to send money home.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Paul Scott

When you're able to compose a comment relevant to the posting it is attached to and free from childish abuse you may, repeat MAY, be permitted to join the rest of the commentators - both Left and Right - on Bowalley Road.

Frank said...

@ Brendan,

" If we want higher living standards, then we need to educate and work and innovate our way to them. We cannot redistribute our way to prosperity."

Cliche upon cliche.


We once had parity with Australia. That was lost during the 1980s neo-lib reforms.

Or are you suggesting that everyone (except you) suddenly got lazy?


We're near the top of the OECD PISA rankings - way above the US, where the Nats are taking their "Charter Schools" policies from.


Not much point when innovators like Fisher & Paykel are bought out from under us; Rakon and other companies relocate to China; and we're busily selling off the very foundations opf our wealth - farmland - to our very competitors.

The response of certain folks? Cliches.

Facts are simple; we keep making wrong decisions and taking easy roads toward "economic growth". Like selling our SOEs. It's a short-term heroin-fix for our economy but not much more.

Or driving down wages so we can be more competitive with our Aussie cuzzies.

Or any other number of neo-liberal policies that certainly enrich some - at the expense of our nation.

And finally, the compulsory superannuation scheme that Muldoon destroyed in 1976. All because a number of voters were gullible enough to believe him. ( )

We can work till we drop. But if the macro-economic policies are ineffectual, then we're like the "coolies" that Chris referred to; working hard for the benefit of others.

Anonymous said...

I know a DHB nurse who tells me the prevalence of fragmented families is desperately affecting many of the patients she works with. Many elderly - the budget cuts mean more are made to stay in their homes - with little or no family support. My friend hears the words "daughter/son/family in Australia" more and more. I have lived in and worked in Australia for 2 years after restructuring in our jobs - yes redundancy. They treat families amazingly well over here compared to NZ and one can have a lifestyle without thinking of any financial burden. But we would come home in a heartbeat if we could find jobs that paid well enough to actually live life and own a home. Can somebody please start talking about SOLUTIONS?? How about the end to CAPITALISM!!?? How about putting People before Money? Why does nobody ever talk about that???!!! Surely the Government is for the people? Well...I want the NZ government to help NZers live an amazing life on HOME SOIL. COME ON ALREADY!

Frankie Lee said...

An end to capitalism? Anon, how do you think Oz became wealthy enough to treat families amazingly well and afford you your "lifestyle"?

NZ needs more capitalism, not less.

Unknown said...

Great post. Yes the ECA destroyed the influence of the union movement. I had my job "sold' from under me, because South Pacific Tyres had no grounds to dismiss me in 1991.

It is only the mining industry that is supporting Australia.

So much for the ANZACS.

T^he lack of action against the ECA in 1991 was embarrassing to say the least. They sold NZ workers down the river.

Australia was created by criminals and is run by criminals - that julia Gillard would be the worst of all.

Anonymous said...

Oh Gawd Frankie Lee...are you serious? Do you think the thousands of kiwis moving to Australia don't realise that we live in a capitalist society? But tell's that working for ordinary working Kiwis AND Australians? As Chris says - good for the employers...good for us in some ways - yes we get to have food on the table woop woop! You'll get your wish I'm sure Frankie Lee because things don't look like they are likely to turn around any time soon... but good luck finding the brakes on this ever-consuming capitalist machine when the flip of a coin finds you on the receiving end of its inhumanity. Best Wishes - I hope you'll never find out what that feels like.

Jigsaw said...

Someone calling for an 'end to capitalism' - I wonder if they have any idea at all what they actually mean? The corner shop renamed GOM and run by the state, staffed with civil servants? All industry nationalized? Its been tried and doesn't exist except in North Korea......maybe that's what they want!
Roger Strong

Frankie Lee said...

NZ's problem, at least in regard to the migration to Australia, is an economic problem.We cannot offer salaries or opportunities on offer across the ditch.

The solution to that is economic growth because that is how the jobs, which might keep a higher number of peple here, are created.

So yes, Anon., I am serious.

Grant Hay said...

I admit I'm a bear of little brain, but I am perpetually bemused by this talk of growth. It is nearly always couched in traditional terms of more and more people occupying larger cities covering more arable land consuming more goods made by ripping more finite resources from a very finite planet. At what point will people like Frankie Lee admit that traditional "growth" in a traditional market economy actually not be possible on an open ended basis? Unless they think we can all launch ourselves out into the universe and continue "growing" by colonising other planets in our solar system? In short, when are we going to get some recognition that you can't subtract a larger number from a smaller one without pulling some pretty fancy tricks out of the hat.

Frankie Lee said...

Actually Grant, who's to say we won't one day launch out and colonise the solar system?

You're assuming that the goods made and resources used will be the same in the future as they are now, but thats not necessarily the case (although some things do remain constant of course), humans are very inventive and adaptable creatures and none of us really knows what the future will hold.

If you're bemused by all this funny talk of growth, fine, but you need to actually come up with some alternative that addresses the very real economic problems NZ faces.

Grant Hay said...

@ Frankie Lee 9.12

Thanks for your reply. I realise we will have to agree to disagree, but I will just say that I am both practically and romantically minded enough to think that we could and should try for a presence on at least Mars if no where else. However the solar system itself is still a finite resource. Even if future technology is different, you can't make something out of nothing. This is not the forum for reiterating the problems and solutions. Suffice it to say that both have been discussed endlessly over the last 40-50 years if not longer. The problem is that we do not live in a rational world. Even when both problem and solution are fairly obvious, the main stake-holders obstinately refuse to change their ways. When I consider the situation for too long, I tend towards despair :). Eventually I think we will all pay a terrible price.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brendan for dropping your usual unchanging, eurocentric stereotypical right wing cliches and pissing off even when people engage you politely.