23 April 2015
The words “We will remember them. Lest we forget,” will be intoned in ceremonies across New Zealand, Australia, and the Gallipoli peninsula this weekend, as people of many ages and backgrounds commemorate the bravery of those who took part in the ill-fated landings a century ago. And so they should. Those events at ANZAC Cove that morning, now shrouded in almost as much legend as reality, shaped the characters of at least two nations, and established the bond between Australia and New Zealand that endures today.
In New Zealand, at least, ANZAC Day has become the closest thing we have to a genuine national day, where we pay tribute to and celebrate the characteristics and values we regard as intrinsic to being a New Zealander today. (Please stop this incessant reference to us as Kiwis – I for one do not like being compared to a dumb, flightless bird!)
But what about the relationship with Australia? There is certainly the quant sibling rivalry referred to de rigueur in almost every speech on the subject, although that is mainly on the sports field. We speak a marginally better form of English than they do, although that distinction seems to be receding as our diction is increasingly reduced to grunts and slovenly nasal twangs, more redolent of the other side of the Tasman. We have broadly the same things in our shops, and like visiting each other. Oh, and Australian Prime Ministers keep referring to us as “family”. But beyond that superficiality, the relationship is more akin to that of the distant cousin, rather than the close sibling we like to portray it as.
This is not altogether surprising. Since Seddon properly rejected the invitation for New Zealand to join the Commonwealth of Australia at the time of Federation in 1901 we have, in our parlance, paddled our own wakas. Occasionally, there have been attempts to invigorate the relationship, from the Canberra Pact in 1944, through to the New Zealand Australia Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1967, and most notably the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement of 1983, but benign neglect has been the more general characteristic. And in such interactions as occur, the presumption is always of New Zealand being not quite on a par with New South Wales, rather than as an equal sovereign nation. (The nadir most surely – aside from the infamous underarm incident – must have been the Keating Government’s decision via a curt late night fax in the early 1990s to terminate consideration of a single aviation market.)
While Australia and New Zealand are clearly two different and distinct countries, there are arguably no more similar peoples on earth. Despite all the rivalries, we genuinely like each other too. And as Gallipoli and so many other campaigns demonstrate, we have been side by side on so many occasions. The sentiments we express about our closeness are genuine, even if the reality is a little less than that.
So, as we invoke the ANZAC spirit this weekend and promise afresh never to forget the sacrifices of an earlier generation that crisp April morning a century ago, let us mark the occasion by breathing fresh life into the modern Australia New Zealand relationship. As two equal sovereign states, let us honour our forebears by making our relationship the closest of any two nations on earth. A practical starting point would be to allow our respective citizens free movement across our borders, without the need for a passport, as is increasingly the case in Europe.
The spectacular memorial gift to grace Wellington’s Pukeahu park is one thing – but, Mr Abbott, a move on passports would be a much more enduring recognition of the bond we say we forged at Gallipoli.