Wednesday, 25 April 2018


In the wake of another ANZAC Day and the rekindling of national spirit it always engenders, it is timely to consider our current relationships with those whom we have joined historically in the struggle for what we now routinely describe as the liberties and freedoms we enjoy today.

At the time of the Gallipoli landings in April 1915, New Zealand's population was around 1.1 million people. Over the course of World War I, around 100,000 people, a little under 10% of our total population at the time, were part of our defence forces, with some 16,000 personnel - more than 1% of our total population - now estimated to have been serving at Gallipoli alone. Little wonder that the scars of that conflict and the memories seared upon the national consciousness by that disastrous British-led campaign still run so deep with New Zealanders today. Moreover, from 1915, Britain commandeered all our frozen meat output, with butter and cheese and other items similarly commandeered before the War's end. As a loyal member of the Empire, New Zealand was happy to help the "Mother Country" in this hour of need.

By the time of World War II, New Zealand's total population had risen to 1.6 million people, of whom 140,000 men and women were to serve in the defence forces, a broadly similar proportion to World War I. Michael Joseph Savage's ringing call in September 1939 that "Where Britain goes, we go; where she stands, we stand" again reflected the mood of the time. Between 1939 and 1945, New Zealand further demonstrated its loyalty by providing one-sixth of Britain's meat imports, a quarter of her butter imports, and half her cheese imports - a greater portion of Britain's wartime food requirements than any other country. Even after the war finished, food continued to be rationed in New Zealand until 1950, to ensure an adequate supply was available for the British market.

Britain's gratitude for these extraordinary sacrifices on its behalf by everyday New Zealand men and women during and after two World Wars was to announce abruptly at the end of the 1950s that it saw its future lying more within Europe than its  traditional Commonwealth allies. So it formally applied to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1961, and it was thanks only to the intransigence of France's President Charles de Gaulle that it was thwarted from doing so until 1973, some years after he had left office. The consequence for New Zealand was the need for a massive readjustment to new markets and greater economic diversity, compounded by the later 1970s Oil Shocks, which were to bedevil successive New Zealand Governments for most of the next three decades.

Britain's sudden abandonment of old Commonwealth allies in pursuit of Europe has had invariably unfavourable consequences in other ways too. The current Windrush scandal affecting potentially tens of thousands of Caribbean migrants recruited to work in Britain in the 1950s now being told they and their descendants may be in the country illegally and therefore liable for deportation is but the latest example.

Just as abruptly, Britain is now seeking a divorce from Europe in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote. Now it is she who has to find alternative markets, and in the most supreme of ironies, is now making eyes afresh at New Zealand, seeking to return home through a new free trade agreement. Despite the way we have been treated over the years, and Britain's apparently earlier cavalier regard for the human and economic sacrifice on its behalf of the New Zealand people in two World Wars, the move to a free trade agreement deserves strong support. Equally, the separate suggestion of a free trade agreement between New Zealand and the European Union should be backed as well, because global inter-connection and co-operation is the best way to secure global peace, stability and prosperity, and to render redundant forever the types of conflict we so properly recall on ANZAC Day, along  with the often futile sacrifices of the lives and futures of our young people of the time. Although trade deals with Russia and even North Korea have been mooted by those who have opposed every trade deal New Zealand has to date been part of, and therefore cannot be taken seriously at present, there may even come a time in the future where such prospects become more realistic as longer-term guarantors of wider peace and stability.

ANZAC Day's key message "Lest We Forget" is extremely relevant here. Free trade agreements with Britain and the European Union would be practical ways of honouring the sacrifices of those who took part in the great conflicts of the 20th century in the defence of our nation and way of life. At the same time, they would also be reminders of the mighty sacrifices, personal, economic and political, of a small nation in years gone by, and a strong statement that we will never again allow our nation's youth and produce to be treated as we were.

We best honour the memory of our fallen by approaching these future trade agreements on the basis of equal partnership, not just as any other nation's glorified farm. We owe no less to those on whose courage, dedication  and strength the ANZAC story has been built.       


Thursday, 5 April 2018


The Government's new plans to improve road safety are certainly controversial. They include a variety of measures from greater emphasis on public transport, to lowering speed limits and increasing fuel excise taxes to pay for it all. Leaving aside the issue of whether raising fuel excise taxes breaks the Government's "no new taxes" promise (although the Prime Minister's explanation that fuel excise is not a tax but a duty is unbelievably cute and further evidence of an earnest naiveté that worryingly she evinces all too readily these days) the question is whether the new strategy will address our increasing road toll and promote better road safety.

Over the recent Easter holiday weekend, I did a lot of driving - from Wellington to Auckland and back, and a few other places in-between - so had the opportunity to observe closely what is going on on our roads. Here are my observations.

Most New Zealanders drive pretty responsibly and carefully, but the ones who do not, are extremely bad and dangerous. Frankly, they should not be allowed on the roads at all because of the threat they pose. Over the weekend, I saw overtaking on blind corners; ridiculous speed just for the sake of it; drivers pulling out from rural side roads into oncoming traffic and then proceeding as they were on a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive; other slow drivers unwilling to pull over to let the mounting queue of motorists behind them, of whom they were obviously oblivious, pass safely.

We have some very good stretches of main highway where driving is a pleasure. But there are significant parts of our main highways that are little more than rickety tar-sealed goat tracks, with unreasonably tight corners, poor vision and inadequate or absent warning signage. Straightening these roads from the days when they were old coach routes and eliminating the most dangerous aspects of them surely has to be a road safety priority. Indeed, we ought to be aiming to four-lane as much of State Highway One as possible to improve both traffic safety and traffic flow.

Some of the most problematic driving I saw was from long-distance truck and trailer units. I realise that truck drivers are highly skilled, and generally have much better vision from their cabs than the average motorist. But I doubt that I saw any of them complying with the 90 kmh speed limit, nor did I see any Police stopping them. Incredibly, I did see big rigs passing each other on passing lanes, holding up much traffic behind them, then speeding up to avoid being passed.

Surprisingly, despite the egregiously sanctimonious advertisement on television  at present, I saw very few Police. There was a handful of speed cameras, but a physical Police presence seemed noticeably absent. Where they were visible, Police invariably seemed to be stationed at the start and end, or, even worse, the middle, of passing lanes, presumably because that is where the speeding infringement pickings are best. I realise that the Police do not really like doing road safety, because they do not regard it as "real" Police work, but their lazy and mistaken belief that good road policing is all about speeding infringements (no, I was not caught speeding over the weekend!) rather than promoting good driving behaviours is simplistic and short-sighted. When, for example, have you ever seen the Police pull over the unreasonably slow driver, or the one with the precariously overloaded trailer or ute? No, the speeding motorist is the far easier prey.

A truly effective road safety strategy needs to focus on the following issues: better roading engineering and improved road conditions; getting the serially dangerous drivers off the roads altogether, whatever their age or circumstances; stricter policing of long-distance trucking; and, a change in the Police attitude to a more positive approach to road safety, rather than a continuation of its current infringement centred fixation.

Addressing these issues are specific positive steps to improving road safety and lowering the road toll. Yet none of them seems to feature in this week's Government announcements. So, as you pay your extra fuel taxes in the years to come, you be the judge of whether we really care about road safety in this country.

Dunne Speaks is having a couple of weeks off, and will be back at the end of April.