Letter to Australia: What the bloody hell are ya?

“There is no New Zealand equivalent of that weird word ‘un-Australian’.” (Photo: Getty Images)

03 October 2015 – Adam Dudding

We Kiwis like Australians for many reasons. We popped over for higher wages and sunshine, and three-quarters of a million of us forgot to come home. We like your beaches and shops and trams when we visit for the weekend. We think your wine isn’t bad, we watch some of your movies (The Matrix is Australian, right?), and read your novels more than you read ours (which makes us a feel a bit miffed, actually).

We have Australian employers, employees, spouses, cousins and half-siblings, and in lieu of meaningful conversation we will pretend to argue with them about who invented the pavlova and whether putting a beetroot and an egg in a burger makes it uniquely Australian or uniquely New Zealandy. We say, hilariously, that you can have Russell Crowe! Quade Cooper! Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen! Keith Urban when he’s off the wagon! Crowded House’s lesser albums! Such fun. It’s our special relationship.

But we also like you because you make us feel good about ourselves by comparison. Justly or otherwise New Zealanders think we’re a bit like Australians only a bit less sexist, a bit less racist, a bit less historically genocidal, a bit less obstreperous on the piss, a bit more genteel.

Like you we grow hysterical on matters of sport, but in general we’re a tad less jingoistic: there is no New Zealand equivalent of that weird word “un-Australian” (which I can never hear without thinking of McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee). You won’t see us wrapping the flag around ourselves on our national day, and in fact many of us want a new one featuring a kiwi with laser beams coming from its eyes.

Or maybe this… the Christmas Island Detention Centre. (Photo: Getty Images)

In moments of candour we may admit we’re a little more boring and uptight than youse, but that’s seems a small price for a lifetime of quiet smugness.

We get particularly smug when we hear how Australia deals with would-be refugees and immigrants. When John Howard kicked off his thuggish “Pacific Solution” in 2001 by turning away the Tampa and its cargo of luckless refugees heading for the lucky country, our PM of the day, Helen Clark, put her hand up and invited 150 of them to come and live with us. They, and their relatives who joined are doing fine, thanks.

Mostly, though, we’ve had no skin in the game. Sheer geography means we don’t have to worry about how humane we’d be if tens of thousands arrived at our border. We’ve simply watched and winced as we hear about suicides and sexual assaults and squalor and riots in the offshore detention centres of Nauru and Christmas Island and Manus Island.

Now, though, it’s different. Cruel new immigration laws mean thousands of New Zealand-born, Australian-bred people with (mainly minor) criminal records face deportation back here, a place some of them haven’t seen since they were toddlers, and 200-odd are already in a holding pattern in your offshore hellholes.

Perhaps we Kiwis could have been louder, earlier, in our condemnation of Australia’s increasingly dubious human rights record. Since we’ve learnt about the Kiwis of Christmas Island, our complaints may look like self-interest. But better late than never and now you know: We think this sucks.

It would be untrue to suggest New Zealanders are taking to the streets to demand protection of the rights of a few hundred semi-Australian minor criminals. And in the darker corners of the internet (ie, the comment sections of our right-wing political blogs) there is little sympathy: “We have got enough trash in this country already without getting back the ones we managed to get rid of,” as one charmer put it.

But by and large we’re appalled. We think you shouldn’t treat anyone like this, but especially not your cousins across the ditch. We figure it’s a bit rich that this is happening in a country so proud of its foundation myth of plucky ex-convicts making good in a place where they could finally get a “fair go”. We’re not sure how we’ve offended you enough to make you slowly dismantle the systems that once made us feel right at home, from automatic residency to a widening range of social services. And now free trips in handcuffs to Christmas Island? I’m still not quite sure what the word means, but is this, by any chance, a bit un-Australian?

Adam Dudding is a senior reporter in Auckland for Fairfax NZ, which is owned by, ahem, Australians.

[Read the Canberra Times article].

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