I was born and raised in Auckland, in a working class city. The suburbs that I grew up in were working and then middle class: we moved when the rules changed and the owner occupier houses of workers in the local freezing works became two storey, ten unit flats full of recent arrivals to a new suburb, where most people worked in the factories in South Auckland or schools, hospitals and shops that serviced them. By the time I went to University the car assembling plants in Otahuhu were closed. Soon after I left the freezing works closed, followed by the railway workshops.
One suburb is now full of immigrants and quite fashionable with the left elite. The other, now middle class, is solidly Indian — apart from the shopping centre, which has a failed mall and is now a red light district.
Half my family still iive there, but none in Auckland: when I go there the town I love is lost, and instead there is a multicultural blob. Churches included.
But the elite see this as a good thing. Something to celebrate. NZ is seen as progressive. But that comes at a great cost.
Then, fast forward to the Auckland Writers Festival two years ago. I was on stage being interviewed about my book on Gallipoli by the long-time Kiwi breakfast TV host, Alison Mau, who in the course of our conversation mentioned she was engaged to marry her gorgeous partner Karleen. As one, the 2000 Kiwis in the theatre started cheering and stomping their feet.
Hang on, I yelled. I am from Australia! Don’t you poor backward bastards know the dangers of same-sex marriage? Don’t you know that that this is a very slippery slope you are on? Don’t you know that people will soon start to marry bridges, marry children, marry sheep – oh, wait – and that everything will soon go to hell in a handcart?
They sneered unpleasantly at my backwardness. They were Kiwis. They knew that same-sex marriage had none of the horrors backwards Australian commentators had been banging on about, and simply couldn’t understand how a country like ours could have fallen so far behind them.
And most recently, of course, they have just elected a 37-year-old woman as the third female Kiwi PM, Jacinda Ardern, who has been an international breath of fresh air in progressive politics, and not just because she talks about NZ being a republic, out loud. She has pointed towards a proud, independent, path for New Zealand. She treats climate change seriously, in a country where no one serious disputes climate change and the need to reduce emissions. She has called out Australia’s treatment of refugees on Manus Island for what it is: unacceptable. Just last week it was announced that references to both Jesus and the Queen have been removed from Parliament’s te reo karakia, or prayer. I think it might be something about accepting that not all Kiwis are Christians or monarchists, you know?
You get the drift. On every front of progressive politics that you can see, the Kiwis are lapping us! Did you hear me, tree people? I said, the KIWIS are lapping us!
They are the sophisticates. We are the provincials.
How did this happen?
Jacinda Ardern’s Foreign Minister, the redoubtable Winston Peters, is my friend. “A key part,” he tells me over the phone from Fiji, “is our MMP proportional representation system, which we have had since 1996. This allows for a diversity of political voices to be heard, and a diversity of politics to be represented. It is inclusive. There are not just two main voices, there are many. It works for us. When I was elected to Parliament, there were just four Maori in parliament. We now form 24 per cent. The system fosters progressive politics.”
My longtime Kiwi colleague at The Sydney Morning Herald, Bernard Lagan, now a correspondent for The London Times – has some theories.
“It is multi-faceted,” he says, “but if you go back to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, the government of David Lange in the 1980s forging an independent path, and the Americans trying to bully NZ back into the fold, you see a national rise of social activism on a broad front, and we have never looked back. And it also helps that we don’t have a very loud, hard-right media here, which gives space for progressive politics to grow. ”
The heavyweight New Zealand political journalist Richard Harman dates the seeds of New Zealand’s social progressivism back even further: “Ever since we had the Australian-born Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, who led a very successful reformist government from 1935, New Zealand has fancied itself as a social laboratory. We haven’t been afraid to try new things. And yes, David Lange was a spur to that progressivism, then retarded by the government of Sir Robert Muldoon, but we really haven’t looked back since. From our side of the Tasman, we can’t quite understand why Australia is so far behind. On same-sex marriage for example, we just don’t see, why you don’t get it. No-one here can understand what the fuss is about.”
Richard? It’s a long story. But things, we can tell you, are pretty bloody grim when we have to look to your side of the ditch for inspiration.
The cost is to our souls. We find ourselves compromising. Consider gay marriage (and I am publishing this on the day that the Australian referendum on same sex marriage will be published. I am unsure of the result, but I have no doubt of this: if the result is “not correct” the politicians will ignore it, and akin to their kiwi colleagues, legislate anyway.
We don’t live in democracies. We live in dominions — royal republics where parliament is soveriegn, and these things happen.
But when there is such a progressive narrative it concentrates the mind wonderfully. It has meant (the gays want the approval of all) that the Presbyterian Church has banned ministers from marrying same sex couples in their book of order, and most local congregations will only allow ministers in good standing to marry in their building.
For us, it was of no matter. Our church main building is shut. It does not meet earthquake standards. But the rules we have mean we will rededicate the new building without needing to repent for the sins that have been committed within it, unlike the situation in Holland, wher the false church — churchians — have let anything in for money, and the cost of desecration.
“Why a reconciliation ceremony? Because the previous association, in order to cover the operating costs, organized cultural events in the church; some were acceptable, concerts, for example, but others were entirely inappropriate given the dignity of the edifice. The sanctuary must also be blessed, because the church was desacralized when it was put up for sale and then bought by the Society.”
On some things we will stand. This is good, proper and right.
Besides the converged Auckland of my youth was beautiful and interesting. This replacement, complete with fast food, drive past big box stores, and plastic malls is ugly and boring.