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.       


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