The late MP Rod Donald used to begin his talks with a question: what was the single event in our (recent at that time) history that changed the balance of trade between Australia and New Zealand? The answer was simple. By removing the manufacture of Aulsebrooke’s biscuits from New Zealand back to Australia, the trade balance was upset from being slightly in NZ’s favour to significantly in Australia’s.
I’m not sure how widely known that is. It seemed at the time to be a very defining thing. All we had to do was eschew Australian biscuits and eat Griffins and other NZ brands and we would save the bilateral trading deficit.
The came to mind recently when the Cadbury factory in Dunedin closed and production moved to Australia. If we eat a lot of biccies, we also eat a lot of chocolate. It is therefore fairly obvious that this move would make Australia richer and New Zealand poorer in trade terms. Not to mention, of course, the jobs that were lost here.
I got to thinking that, while the government is doing a lot of things, I have yet to hear any sign of a ‘buy New Zealand’ strategy emanating from Government. Aren’t we over neo-liberalism enough yet to know that it is good business to make and buy our own stuff?
The hint of truth that comes out of Trump’s dirty mouth is that we need to support our own people and products if we are to prosper as a nation. This does not require us to be racist or xenophobic. It is not about being better than other places, but using our natural resources to benefit our nation economically.
As well as goods, I think we need to do more to promote the use of services that do not extract profits from New Zealand and ship them overseas. Part of the reason NZ is relatively poor is that we create surplus value that is then sucked out of our economy all the time. The banks are the best example of that. Really, everyone should be doing their banking at Kiwibank, which is a great bank and retains the profits here. Best thing that Jim Anderton did. I mean, why would you not?
Thus New Zealand is good for making profits for Australian business owners and shareholders. Is there any scope for turning the tide and bringing those profit dollars for use in New Zealand?
The first thing is we could promote goods made here. And I don’t mean by importing pig meat from Canada then passing it off as ‘kiwi’ bacon (did you know around 80% of our bacon is imported?). I am talking about stuff which is made here from NZ materials for us and our industries, such as tourism. I am not averse to importing raw materials if certain things cannot be sourced here, however, as long as it is declared (unfortunately it appears we will never be able to grow cocoa, for example). New Zealand makes great things, and we as consumers should be conscious at all times to support our producers.
The second thing is to promote new small and artisan industries, new ownership models (e.g. collective, Treaty partnership, iwi) and new approaches to industry. Shane Jones’ regional development fund should be used to underpin new kinds of industry for the modern age – carbon neutral or positive, focus on lifestyle industries and, where possible, owned by its communities.
Finally, if this is the first year that climate change is really showing its face, then NZ needs to orient itself towards that future. The world is stuffed full of people fighting to exist in deteriorating conditions. We are fortunate that we have many of the conditions that others would love.
That includes Australia. Always dry, much of Australia may be uninhabitable in a century as droughts become more frequent (much of the country has been in drought since around 2000). This year alone appears to be nearly apocalyptical in some areas with starving cows, rampant kangaroos (read about it!) and failing crops.
We face our own difficulties too, with erosion and flood and so on. All I am saying, really, is that in all the blather about being focused on international trade deals and exports and imports etc, our own people and circumstances must not be forgotten. We could well do with a focus on supporting our own economy, using our own renewable resources, creating our own jobs, owning our own enterprises and trading in our own best interests.
A government-mandated ‘buy NZ’ campaign would be a good start. Just sayin’.
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).