The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, February 07, 2006



You’re unlikely to encounter a hangi on the streets of Jakarta or chanting of the haka – though there may be a few kiwi toasts in some Blok M bars. For this Monday (6 Feb) is Waitangi Day. Confused? Duncan Graham explains:

In the great game of geopolitics the major East-West players in South East Asia and the South Pacific are Indonesia and Australia. But there’s another outpost of European culture and heritage in the region that’s frequently overlooked.

Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud as it’s known to the original Maori inhabitants - is New Zealand. But it’s nothing like the Dutch province. (A hangi is food cooked underground and a haka is the fearsome war chant usually seen and heard at Rugby games. The kiwi is a nocturnal flightless bird and a national emblem. )

Despite its size and position (NZ has only 4 million people with 75 per cent of British heritage) the country was of sufficient importance to Indonesia for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pay a visit last year.

NZ is a handy local market for Indonesian coal, paper products and furniture. Total trade is worth more than NZ$ 1 billion (Rp 6.38 trillion), with the balance in Indonesia’s favour.

If you buy powdered milk in Indonesia there’s a good chance it has come from the Shaky Isles. Like Indonesia, NZ has much geological activity and volcanoes that give the land its stunning beauty and extraordinary fertility.

Consequently tourism and farming are major industries. The country has probably the world’s best dairy products that explains why kiwis (the birds and the people) look so robust.

NZ is famous for its magnificent scenery (featured in the Lord of the Rings films) its clean-green environment and ability to stand up to the US by banning nuclear ships from entering NZ waters.

“Since President Susilo’s visit the political relationships between the countries are in very good shape,” said David Strachan deputy head of the NZ mission to Indonesia in Jakarta.

“He got a very warm reception. His visit helped people realise that there’s a lot of unrealised potential in the relationship.”

Despite a government travel warning similar to Australia’s, up to 30,000 New Zealanders visit Indonesia every year – mostly as tourists to Bali. Around 1,000 live in Indonesia, the majority in Jakarta where they mainly work as architects, engineers and teachers.

About 700 Indonesians are studying in New Zealand where the fees are reported to be lower than Australia. The problem for Indonesians is the long and costly flight, and the colder climate does not appeal to people from the tropics.

New Zealanders face a similar identity problem to Canadians who live next to a giant. Australia may have only 20 million people, but it’s a huge landmass standing between NZ and the rest of the world.

The rivalry between the two is intense – particularly in sport, where the kiwis excel despite their tiny population.

Like Indonesia one of NZ’s major exports is people seeking wider opportunities in the world outside. Former NZ prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon quipped that migration to Australia improved the IQ on both sides.

New Zealanders are regularly mistaken for Australians and often grouped together. In Jakarta there’s an Australian and New Zealand Association dominated by the former. (Contact:

How do you tell them apart? Check the vowels in “fish and chips”. If you can understand what they say they’re Australian.

Vladimir Lenin was alleged to have described NZ as “a country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines” – and he wasn’t even an Australian. That hasn’t stopped millions visiting the country for its knockout geography, tranquillity and friendly folk.

The paranoia about adjacent Indonesia that infects Australian politics and dominates national policy doesn’t infect New Zealanders. Having the Great South Land alongside may swamp your identity, but it’s a handy barrier to an imagined invasion.

Nonetheless New Zealanders are active politically on Indonesian issues. Last month there was a small pro-Papua demonstration in Auckland against Australia’s detention of Indonesian asylum seekers.

Some Australian political commentators have suggested that New Zealand could be absorbed as another State or at least share a common currency. The NZ dollar can be bought for around 90 cents Australian – about Rp 6,400.

Any chance of an amalgamation? Not while sentiments like those of Muldoon remain. Here’s another: “New Zealand was colonised initially by those Australians who had the initiative to escape.”


The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840 at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands between the British Crown and Maori chiefs from the North Island.

Although now considered the nation’s foundation day it remains controversial with some Maori claiming the treaty was mistranslated and its terms betrayed by the British.

New Zealand was already a British colony when the treaty was signed and it took till 1975 before the document gained any legal force.

In 1989 the government pledged to recognise five treaty principles - of government, self-management, equality, reasonable cooperation and redress. However the ways these are implemented are still disputed.

About ten per cent of the NZ population is Maori. In the past few years there’s been a resurgence in Maori pride, and the language is now widely taught. Many official NZ documents are written in both languages.

In Australia the Aborigines form only one per cent of the population. Attempts by Aboriginal activists for a NZ-style treaty have not been successful.

NZ has a reputation for being socially progressive and in the forefront of women’s rights. The present and previous prime minister and the governor general are all women. NZ passed a Bill of Rights in 1990 – a document Australia has yet to write.

(Declaration of interest: Although the writer is an Australian, he admits to visiting kiwi relatives who haven’t quit NZ.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 February 06)


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