This weekend New
Zealand Prime Minister John Key is hosting his Australian
counterpart Julia Gillard in Queenstown for an annual
leaders' meeting focusing on the future of the two countries'
Closer Economic Relations. Bruce Munro examines the business,
cultural and psychological ties that bind our two nations and
discovers New Zealand's relationship with its ''big brother''
is less than healthy.
It was the ultimate, public Aussie put-down by none other
than the New Zealand architect of transtasman Closer Economic
In 1980 New Zealand's short in stature but larger-than-life
Prime Minister Robert Muldoon met his Australian counterpart,
Malcolm Fraser, in Wellington. Neither liked the other. But
both agreed their countries should ''co-operate more closely
in their own trading relationship''.
Dr Jackie Hunter
Many New Zealanders also thought there were gains to be
had by getting closer to Australia. By the time the Closer
Economic Relations (CER) agreement was signed on March 28,
1983, more than 103,000 Kiwis had shifted permanently to
Australia in just five years.
Mr Muldoon's reaction to questions about the exodus -
delivered with characteristic wry smile and gruff voice - was
sharply derogatory of all Australians, laced with barbs for
those crossing the Ditch.
''New Zealanders who leave for Australia raise the IQ of both
countries,'' he retorted.
Three decades later, much has changed. Meeting a month before
the 30th anniversary of the signing of CER, present-day Prime
Ministers John Key and Julia Gillard lead countries which
have become among the world's most closely integrated
economies. But just as much, it seems, has remained the same.
Not far below the surface of the smaller nation, a little
brother's spite seems to simmer unabated.
We love to discriminate against Australians, psychologist Dr
Jackie Hunter says.
The University of Otago lecturer studies the interplay
between discrimination, self-esteem, sense of belonging and
identity. He has conducted experiments showing New
Zealanders, given the chance, deprive Australians of
resources and give them unpleasant experiences.
''When given the opportunity to allocate $100 between
Australians and New Zealanders, New Zealanders allocated
$75.91 to New Zealanders and $24.09 to Australians,'' Dr
Prof Tom Brooking
And when given 100 seconds of annoying white noise to
dish out, New Zealanders gave 74.11sec to Australians and only
25.89sec to their fellow countrymen.
Dr Hunter's research also reveals these displays of
discrimination gave New Zealanders feelings of increased
self-esteem, belonging and social identity. It is empirical
evidence for what we instinctively know to be true.
We like to crack derogatory jokes about Aussies. And it makes
us feel good. Give it a go. You know you want to.
Q. What is the difference between yoghurt and Australia? A.
Yoghurt has some culture.
Hilarious. Did you feel a momentary glow of smugness? Of
course. Tell the joke to a friend and no doubt you will also
share a brief burst of patriotic pride.
And yet we do this despite deep and wide bonds with
The two countries share language and cultural traits, as well
as similar political, legal and economic institutions. About
480,000 New Zealand-born people live in Australia and about
65,000 Australians live here.
The Anzac spirit forged at Gallipoli in 1915 has endured
through theatres of war in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.
In recent decades it has been exhibited in joint peacekeeping
operations in Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and East
Australia is New Zealand's largest export market, taking
about $10.8 billion of our goods each year. And Australians
hold investments in New Zealand worth about $91 billion.
Dr Bryce Edwards
During the past three decades CER and the goal of
creating a single economic market have lowered trade barriers,
reduced business costs and encouraged transtasman trade.
It is a relationship Mr Key has described as ''like no
other'' and Ms Gillard has called ''family''.
To outsiders, our two countries must look like odd-shaped,
South Pacific Siamese twins. One big, brash and brown. The
other diminutive, polite and green. But both definitely
joined at the hip.
With so much in common, where does this New Zealand prejudice
towards Australia spring from? Australians have always thrown
a few sheep jokes in our direction. And they like to try to
beat us at sports. But there is not a lot at stake in it for
They might worry for a moment when we get the edge over them
in a trade deal, such as when New Zealand in 2008 became the
first developed economy to successfully negotiate a free
trade agreement with China. But for the most part they are
either prone to forget us in their rush to be part of the
Asian Century, or to think of us with some affection.
According to the Lowy Institute - an independent
international affairs, think-tank based in Sydney -
Australians consistently name New Zealand their most liked
For New Zealanders, however, it is all a lot more personal.
At times we welcome their presence, such as when Australian
fast bowler Brett Lee popped over for a weekend in January to
play for Otago in a twenty/20 game against Canterbury. Or
when snow brings up to 100,000 mostly young Australians on
skis and snowboards pouring tens of millions of dollars into
the New Zealand economy each winter.
But this is against an emotional background that is
Our litany of wrongs done is well rehearsed and close at
We are forever outraged that Australians claim Timaru-born
Phar Lap as a legendary Australian racehorse; that they put
the head of Dunedin-born philanthropic ophthalmologist Fred
Hollows on a coin celebrating inspirational Australians; that
they claim to have invented the pavlova in 1935 when it was
listed in New Zealand recipe books as early as 1926; that
they include Split Enz off-shoot Crowded House among
Australia's top bands; that they used fire blight as a
spurious excuse to block imports of our apples for 90 years
And then there is the death blow - the never-to-be-forgotten
underarm delivery delivered by Australian cricketer Trevor
Chappell to prevent New Zealand drawing the third match of
the one-day international series in 1981.
Dr Chris Skellett
Yet at the same time, in the 12 months to July 2012, an
average of 1000 New Zealanders a week were shifting to
Australia for better wages and opportunities.
We are the aggrieved little brother - discriminating and
belittling at every opportunity, constantly comparing to see
if we measure up, secretly envious and resentful of the
other's perceived strengths and achievements.
And we have been that estranged little brother for a long
Australasia once existed, but that was during the 19th
century, University of Otago historian Prof Tom Brooking
After New Zealand rejected the option to join the Federation
of Australia in 1901 it began to ''behave as a typically
small country, increasingly self-conscious about its
Lilliputian qualities'', Prof Brooking wrote in a chapter
contributed to Moving Together or Drifting Apart, a
book about New Zealand and Australia's troubled relationship.
For example, New Zealand's World War 1 Prime Minister William
Massey and and his coalition deputy Joseph Ward disliked each
other but travelled extensively overseas together, earning
the transtasman nickname of the Bing Boys, a reference to
Australia's first surviving conjoined twins.
The pair's deepest loathing, however, was reserved for the
''boastful if ebullient'' Australian Prime Minister Billy
Hughes, Prof Brooking said. Political commentator Dr Bryce
Edwards attributes our little-brother syndrome to petty
nationalism and a ''failure ... to create an assertive and
well-defined sense of national identity''.
''So when [politicians] compare New Zealand to Australia,
either in terms of cheeky put-downs of our big brother or as
a call to lift the country's performance, this really amounts
to just empty politics and platitudes,'' Dr Edwards, who is a
University of Otago political studies lecturer, said.
''But what makes our petty nationalistic rivalry so strange
is the fact that mostly, our two nations are incredibly
It is as though we are indeed conjoined twins, but one is a
morose dwarf always spoiling for a fight with its larger
Which cannot be healthy.
It isn't, clinical psychologist Chris Skellet says.
"Big brothers are useful and you can draw on their presence
in the wider world,''Dr Skellet said. "But be careful you are
not diminished by living in their shadow.''
And that shadow is more a state of mind than a physical or
geographical reality, the Dunedin-based author of When
Happiness Is Not Enough said.
Australians and New Zealanders have quite distinct national
temperaments. We do ourselves a disservice when we constantly
try to be like our big brother, he says.
''The Australian psyche is ultra-competitive and
achievement-oriented. They like to win and be best and first.
''As Kiwis we are more laid-back. We tend to value our
lifestyle and environment. We have a unique quality of
What worries Dr Skellet about our relationship with Australia
is that it seems to be ''unrelentingly competitive''.
It is classic little-brother syndrome behaviour and, given
their competitive nature, ''might well play into Australian
Which raises questions about whether the Government's
apparent preoccupation with matching Australia is wise or
risks only deepening our collective mental malaise.
National came to power in late 2008, saying its vision was to
''close the gap with Australia by 2025''.
That goal got caught up in the Act Party-driven 2025
Taskforce, which produced recommendations some of which Mr
Key termed ''extreme''. It was officially dropped by the
Government in early 2011.
But the comparing and contrasting has continued.
In August of that year the then Minister of Commerce Simon
Power, speaking in Auckland to the Trans-Tasman Business
Circle, said the Government wanted New Zealand companies to
take on Australians at their own game.
''Aggressive competition is the Australian way,'' Mr Power
said. ''New Zealand's forthcoming strategy for Australia -
known as NZ Inc - will encourage companies to seek that
competitive spirit which Australian companies display.''
And in late January this year, outlining to members of
Auckland's North Harbour Club the challenges and
opportunities facing New Zealand, Mr Key held up Australia as
an example of how to proceed.
''Investment is crucial,'' Mr Key said. ''Why has Australia
been doing so well over the last few years? Because there has
been massive investment in its economy.''
Rather than focusing on catching up with Australia, Dr
Skellet suggests a healthier goal for New Zealand is ''to be
the best we can be''.
The way to avoid being sucked into little brother thinking is
to ''accept differences, assume equivalence and exude
confidence'', he says. ''You don't need to prove yourself.
You are who you are.
''Whatever status you find yourself in, you can always play a
useful role and a confident role from that position.
''If we give up comparing ourselves with Australia, and
instead focus on our positive qualities while working to
reach our potential, our status in the eyes of Australia
''would paradoxically rise as a result'', Dr Skellet said.
There are some hopeful signs this sort of thinking has
gained, or is getting, a toe-hold.
Prof Alistair Fox, whose expertise includes contemporary New
Zealand literature and film, believes although New Zealand
envies Australia's economic wealth, there is no sense of
inferiority in the arts world.''
New Zealand literature and cinema is distinct to itself,''
Prof Fox, director of the University of Otago's Centre for
Research on National Identity, said.
''Sometimes there is even a sense of superiority.''
Since the late 1970s Dunedin-based precision engineering firm
DC Ross has been producing components for handbrakes in all
Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry vehicles
manufactured in Australia.
The company's general manager, Peter Deans, says during the
past three years there has been a ''quantum shift'' away from
a little-brother mentality among New Zealand manufacturers
doing business in Australia.
That change has been enabled by a loss of confidence among
Australian manufacturers hurt by the global economic crisis,
''There was a `you shall do as we say or we'll go elsewhere'
attitude,'' Mr Deans said. ''That's changed. Now there is
even discussion about collaborations.''
The decline in Australian manufacturing has forced DC Ross to
look elsewhere for opportunities.
It now produces two seating components for Tesla Motors, the
United States electric car company co-founded by PayPal's
Elon Musk, which produced the first fully electric sports
DC Ross also hopes to sign a manufacturing contract with a
multinational German-based company in the next few weeks.
This has also helped the company do business in Australia.
''If New Zealand companies can start picking up contracts
with other overseas multi-nationals, it adds some stripes to
your sleeve when you turn up to do business with
Australians,'' Mr Deans said.
A new type of New Zealander is emerging, Z Energy chief
executive Mike Bennetts claims.
Before Shell service stations were rebranded last year, Z
Energy hired research firm AC Nielsen to survey 17,000 New
Zealanders about their lifestyles, values and attitudes.
What emerged was a picture of a new, more confident, more
assertive New Zealander, Mr Bennetts said.
''We no longer feel forgotten,'' he said. ''We want to be
associated with successful enterprises. We are becoming
creative and innovative beyond the No 8 fencing wire
mentality. And we want to celebrate success, but like to keep
it real and act with humility.
''This way of thinking was probably more pervasive in cities
than in rural areas. And it would take a while to infiltrate
our relationship with Australia, he believed.
''It is probably more about how we are redefining ourselves
in terms of the rest of the world, rather than with our
But Mr Bennetts worries this new attitude is being threatened
by tough times.
It takes courage to become more innovative and creative, he
''My interpretation is some of the new Kiwiness has been
dampened by the global financial crisis because people are
finding life difficult.''
You could argue if New Zealand wishes to remain relevant -
economically, culturally and trade wise - to the wider world
... then there needs to be an evolution in who we are. Time
will show whether we want to go in that direction.''