March 29th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Clive Palmer, the would-be powerbroker

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN STATE ELECTION: Independent MP puts Labor back in power

TASMANIAN STATE ELECTION: Massive swing to Liberals, major shock for Labor

EDITORIAL: SA, Tasmanian elections confirm Labor's decline

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Fixing the distorted high Australian dollar

HUMAN RIGHTS: Restoring human rights protection to children

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: New perspectives on the 1955 Labor split

NEW ZEALAND: Export boom sees NZ's economy forge ahead

UKRAINE CRISIS: Ukrainian church leaders urge Putin to back down

UNITED STATES: Justice Dept drags its feet over sex-trafficking website

OPINION: Repeal, don't amend, laws that threaten free speech


TELEVISION: Rival depictions of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes

BOOK REVIEW The generals who started the war on the family

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first major victory in the Great War

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Export boom sees NZ's economy forge ahead

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, March 29, 2014

As the Australian economy slows, the Roy Morgan consumer confidence survey shows that New Zealanders are far more confident than their neighbours across the Tasman. It’s obvious that the New Zealanders, who have had to take some tough decisions, are quietly satisfied by this turn of events.

New Zealand is prospering from the China boom, with rising exports of dairy and other agricultural products. Tourism and education see thousands of Asian people flocking to New Zealand every year.

Bill English, New Zealand’s Finance

Minister and Deputy PM

I have visited New Zealand previously, but the level of confidence and prosperity I observed when I visited last month was quite unexpected.

Some describe New Zealand’s economy as a one-trick pony, namely, dairy and nothing else; but, quite apart from tourism and education, New Zealand has developed a range of products.

Auckland’s Sky Casino — and the smaller casino in Hamilton — draw crowds of avid gamblers. Asian racehorse-buyers have a high opinion of New Zealand thoroughbreds, no doubt conscious that many “Australian” champion racehorses such as Phar Lap were foaled in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a major seafood exporter, and its premium wines have gained an international reputation.

Australia has gambled on China continuing to buy our iron ore and coal. However, the construction phase of Australia’s mining projects is drawing to a close.

China is transforming from an investment-based economy, which means vast quantities of steel for reinforcing concrete and for other hardware, to a more consumption-oriented one. China now aims at a prosperity based on stimulating domestic demand.

The Chinese people want more and better food. The reputation of Chinese dairy products has been tainted by recurring food-tampering scandals, while New Zealand has a reputation for the highest standards of food hygiene.

Such is the demand for New Zealand infant formula that travellers returning to China are restricted to carrying one tin only. New Zealand’s dairy exports are likely to continue increasing as living standards in China improve. One has only to observe the height and bulk of China’s “little emperors” who have now grown to maturity to realise that a healthy diet will work wonders for the Chinese people — and dairy products are an important part of such a diet.

The New Zealand dollar has yet to reach parity with the Australian dollar. Forecasters have previously been found wanting in asserting that the New Zealand dollar will reach, then surpass, the Australian dollar. This is not beyond the bounds of possibility, but certainly not inevitable.

New Zealand in both population and area is roughly equivalent to the Australian state of Victoria. Some experts predict that within 20 years New Zealand’s Asian population will be around 30 per cent. This does not seem to concern Anglo New Zealanders; but not all Maoris are happy about losing their historical position as the nation’s second largest ethnic group.

One cannot help but reflect on the fact that the Maoris, when employed, are found in lower-skilled jobs such as security guards. The people who are found day and night begging in Auckland’s Queen Street are almost exclusively Maori. However, Maoris are also farmers, small business people and work in retail trade and are often quite entrepreneurial. A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats and the Maori people appear to be prospering along with other New Zealanders.

Many of New Zealand’s political problems stem from her lack of a written constitution. The Maoris and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840. Which version of the Treaty of Waitangi is the authentic one is disputed.

The treaty is one of New Zealand’s key constitutional documents. What is not in dispute is that the Maori Wars began after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and continued for some 30 years. These wars marked the first time Australian troops were deployed overseas.

Subduing the Maoris may have temporarily settled the conflict, which was mainly over land, but did not settle it permanently. In recent years, the Maori people and the New Zealand government have contended over what rights the Maoris have to land, fisheries and so on.

New Zealand has been active in trade diplomacy, recently signing a free trade agreement with Taiwan. Fonterra, a huge farmer-owned cooperative, has been transformed into a “national champion” of the dairy industry, and has extensive interests in Australia. It controls 30 per cent of the world’s dairy exports and is New Zealand’s largest company.

Prime Minister John Key’s National government is likely to be returned with an absolute majority when the general election is held on September 20 this year.

The country meantime is enjoying an era of good feelings the likes of which have not been seen since 1973, when Britain cut many of its Commonwealth trade links and joined the European Economic Community.

New Zealanders are a courteous and helpful people. Boasting is not part of their character, but one can’t help but feel that as the Australian economy slows and New Zealand forges steadily ahead, Kiwis are feeling a trifle smug. The economy is expanding, the beloved All Blacks went through last year undefeated, and the adopted Kiwi, teenage golf sensation Lydia Ko, won the Halberg Supreme Award, New Zealand’s highest possible sporting trophy.

Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer. He recently visited New Zealand. 

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