It’s the most commented article on The Economist right now, and it’s a fractious topic.
Indian students have recently taken to the streets in protest against some of the worst ethnic-based attacks Australia has seen
The violence sprang to public notice when two Indian men were attacked with screwdrivers in Melbourne last month. One was robbed. Both ended up in hospital.
I don’t want to get into the wheres and wherefores of the topic, but do want to draw comparison between New Zealand and Australia.
Australian society has a pretty strong racist streak compared with New Zealand. It’s a combination of a number of things, but I let’s it down to the following three.
- Horrific indigenous population conditions and policies
- Lack of exposure to non-white cultures – e.g. Aboriginal Australians make up 2.6% of the population
- Lack of non White Australian (and male) leaders
In New Zealand we are continuously addressing these issues and as a result are far less inclined to have racially oriented violence. That’s not to say we don’t have it, nor that we don’t have racists, but it’s on a scale far below that of Australia. Even PM Kevin Rudd was in denial about the reasons behind the attacks as he:
..dismissed race as a motive, and called the violence “just a regrettable fact of urban life”
For a former diplomat Rudd has really miss-stepped. India is a growing market and power, and Australia isn’t doing their chances of a closer relationship any good:
It has also become a diplomatic embarrassment for Australia, at a time when it has been seeking to boost relations with India to what Stephen Smith, Australia’s foreign minister, calls “the front rank of our international partnerships”. Kumari Selja, India’s tourism minister, has cancelled a planned visit to Australia in July. And Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, has said he is “appalled” at the violence, calling some of it racially motivated.
New Zealand has steadily and deliberately moved over past 25 years to become a fairer, integrated multi-ethnic multi-cultural society. We’ve worked hard – from the Te Reo programs, to treaty settlements, Maori seats in parliament, Maori broadcasting and so forth. Meanwhile we’ve experienced increased immigration from the Pacific, Africa and several countries in Asia.
As a result we, as a people, are better able to quickly understand, respect and work with foreign cultures. That helps make us even better global travelers and, along with our honest approach, good people to do business with.
Indeed a decent diplomatic corps may market a country as one thing, but just like a branded product, if there is a disconnect between rhetoric and reality then the reality will eventually shine through. New Zealand has always punched above our weight in global politics, and one reason is because our well-raised people are scattered throughout the world demonstrating every day what it is we stand for.
This helps our export driven economy. We are ever-increasing our reach into new markets, especially to the near 2 billion population inside countries that we have or are negotiating Free Trade agreements with. We are thus set up well to successfully do business within these very different societies and cultures.
Australia, in reality, is not that far behind, and this isn’t a win-lose game, but we’ll take any advantage we can get over the West Island.