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National identity

DecisionMaker is focusing more attention on the question of national, Pacific and global identities. Here we identity the views of and about significant contributors to New Zealand's national identity. Find out more about what MPs elected in 2005 - and political parties in Parliament - stand for, and suggest on national identity.

National identity in an interdependent world,
in which the Centre for Citizenship Education increases attention to perspectives that bind citizens of New Zealand

The Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, on advice of the Prime Minister, Helen Clark

Former Labour PM David Lange and former Green co-leader Rod Donald

Former Labour PM Mike Moore

National identity in an interdependent world,
in which we increase attention to perspectives that bind citizens of New Zealand

The thrust of citizenship education in this country is to give young people and new arrivals an introduction to the structure and operations of government, and the principles and ideals that lie behind our system.

Much of this is relatively straightforward and can be explained quite simply. Some is more difficult, because though the terms are in constant use they are not easily defined.

Some of the words are virtually interchangeable. For example, we can talk about New Zealand as a country, a nation, or a state, or just as a member of an international organization. Exploration of their significance, and so of our national values, is part of the business of learning about the responsibilities of citizenship, and what is involved, what we stand for. What do we really mean when we say…?

These concepts need to be discussed and analysed as they are used in a range of different contexts: people need to be able to talk over the issues among themselves, ask questions, and perhaps encourage debate among their tutors.

The fact that New Zealand is an island, that we have no land borders, makes some things a bit easier. It immediately gives us a sense of identity. We refer to ourselves as a nation.

What is a nation? In politico-legal terms New Zealand is a nation-state which takes its place on the international stage, is a member of international institutions, signs treaties and is concerned with a wide range of world issues.

But there is more to it than lines on a map. We have a shared history, a sense of belonging, our own standards, our own view of the world, and we are always conscious that other people are somehow different.

“Country” is often used as if it means the same as “nation”: there were 191 countries in the UN General Assembly in 2005. But it does not have quite the same legal sense, and seems to refer more to geography, to the people and their activities.

“State” is probably more strictly legal. New Zealand is a state at international law; and in domestic usage it means the central government.

“Nationhood” is a rather emotional concept. It suggests pride in achievement, and independence of spirit. We define ourselves to the world. It is only natural that on special occasions such as the Opening of Parliament we should celebrate our nationhood.

But we should remember that these days many people are saying that nationalism is obsolete: we are all, or should be, internationalists now, multilateralists.

So when did we become a nation?

Are we more of a nation today than we were 50 years ago? Is it because we are more mature, or perhaps more sophisticated? But we also think of ourselves as a country, a working pluralist democracy, a multicultural society. Just ocassionally we remember that we are constitutional monarchy too. None of these terms says quite enough. They are aspects of the whole.

In practice we regularly and quite properly use the adjective “national” to locate ownership, to say that something is ours, belongs to New Zealand – maybe a sporting team, maybe something much less tangible.

We talk about our national identity and identities – sometimes using the word in the plural to underline the contributions of our various cultural communities. When we do it is important to see as one whole our society, economy, democratic processes, international relationships, and plans and prospects. Probably our “values” too, though they can be pretty elusive: how many do we have? (People still sometimes speak of national “character”, though in today’s world of mixed ethnicities that no longer means very much.) Identity is therefore a concept, one word which really requires a short essay of definition and explanation whenever it is used.

National “interests” is another concept altogether, most often referring to economic or security concerns.

Though we are all members of this nation, some see themselves also as global citizens, some also as citizens of a region, Pacific citizens. We belong to more than one group, but the pull of family and of country is strong.

Identity, indeed, may at times be little more than a slogan, or perhaps a label - and labels can be misleading.

Sometimes it may be no more than a declaration of independence.

Identity is difficult, too, because we have to recognize that it is constantly changing. Human societies tend to be untidy. They are always evolving: whether in history or in today’s fast-changing world you can never find a community which for any length of time is static, with no new arrivals, no significant changes to the economy (and so to their way of life), their internal political structure, or contacts with other communities.

We cannot really manage our identity. There is so much over which we as a nation don’t have all that much control. People come and go, the population grows, and agriculture becomes more productive, new industries are introduced, countless new technologies are eagerly seized on, international trading patterns and communications are constantly being transformed. New ideas and cultural concepts take root; and the whole world is facing up to new problems, new threats. New opportunities open up.

In these terms, consider New Zealand at, say, 10-year intervals from 1905 onwards. How many “identities” have we had in 100 years?

And however we think of ourselves, whatever seems most important to us, how are we regarded by others, by Europeans, East Asians, Australians, Pacific Islanders? They all see us somewhat differently – and they are themselves all changing too. For years we have had a good reputation in the UN, as a responsible and active international citizen, making useful contributions and having significant influence despite our lack of economic or military clout: that is another identity of which we can be proud.

Nevertheless many of them may have only some vague sort of image of us, just as we have images of them: a few points that we have picked up, result perhaps of brief experience, or of reading a newspaper article. Not very reliable. Quite misleading, perhaps.

We ourselves can have a self-image too. This is probably rather flattering. We like to think that we have made a success of some particular enterprise, that we have done better than others at something else, or have handled a certain problem pretty well. (We may not be aware just how we actually do compare with other countries.) But we are not likely ever to have delusions of grandeur.

Nevertheless this is all useful. Good citizens, active citizens in any country should from time to time reflect on its identity, how it is seen by its inhabitants – with all their different viewpoints, ambitions and attitudes – how it must appear to its neighbours, trading partners and fellow members of international organizations.

And even if we cannot control our identity we can certainly make efforts to build it in the direction we would like it to go. We want to be seen as growing, and growing up. We want to be known for achieving unity in diversity, for dealing with fellow-citizens and the outside world with tolerance and mutual respect. We want to be respected for our inclusive, participatory democracy. We want to be recognized for our multicultural heritage. And we want to be accepted as being educated, skilled, with energy and initiative, active players with a vision of a well ordered trading system.

We need to think about what strengths and qualities we most admire, what standards would we like to reach. Not only how would we wish to be seen by our neighbours: how, too, we would hope to be seen by our grandchildren. Ideally we should all have a pretty much - at least in essentials - the same idea of how we would like to evolve. We’ve not yet achieved that, but maybe we never will. Lively debate is to be encouraged.

But – and there are always buts

by Roger Peren, an Adviser to the Centre for Citizenship Education

The Governor-General on advice of the Prime Minister

In November, 2005, the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, acting according to custom, read the Speech from the Throne, given to her by the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, that this time included the following national identity sentiments extracted from the Government’s intended programme for New Zealand’s 48th Parliament. back to top
The headings are DecisionMaker's, the words are from the Speech from the Throne.

Building support for the electoral system

It was therefore a tragedy to learn of the untimely death of Mr Rod Donald MP, the co-leader of the Green Party. Mr Donald had been instrumental, not only in building support for the electoral system by which New Zealanders now choose governments, but also in the Green Party making such a strong contribution to Parliament in recent years. He will be sorely missed.

NZ confident in sense of identity
Ours is now a country more confident of its economic future and more secure in its sense of identity.
In the past six years New Zealand has enjoyed economic growth above the rate of our major trading partners. We have seen a significant decline in poverty levels and we have recorded the lowest crime rate in 22 years.back to top

Distinctive NZ way
Over recent years, my government has set about developing a distinctive New Zealand way of responding to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
This is an approach founded on New Zealanders’ creativity and innovation, on valuing both inspiration and aspiration, and on seeing our size and place in the world not as a limitation, but as offering opportunities to succeed.
The New Zealand way is much more than the clichés of ‘number eight wire’ or ‘punching above our weight’. It is based on the belief that as a confident, diverse, inclusive Pacific nation, we can work together to find new opportunities and market our best ideas profitably to the world.
This approach will continue to be applied to a range of policies and programmes aimed at lifting the quality of life and standard of living for all New Zealanders.

Apply talents of all
My government believes that the talents of all must be deployed in the drive to transform our nation.
It is important to build a broad consensus about the way ahead. Divisions within the community, perceived or otherwise, must not be allowed to get in the way of the transformation of New Zealand, to a prosperous, confident 21st century nation.
My government intends to work - as it has over the last six years - in partnership with people from across sectors and communities to advance New Zealand’s interests. back to top

World class foundations

New Zealand's growing economy relies on strong foundations. The foundations of a 21st century economy must include world class education, infrastructure, healthcare, and social services.

Inclusive, forward looking NZ way
Underpinning each of these priorities is an approach founded on a distinctly New Zealand way of working. This approach aims to be inclusive, forward looking, and focused on lifting the aspirations and developing the abilities of all New Zealanders. This is critical to our nation's success.
Honourable Members, one of the most distinctive features of the emerging New Zealand way is our sense of national identity, confidence, and creativity.

Our stories - creative industries

New Zealanders are holding their own alongside the best writers, musicians, and artists anywhere in the world. Our communities now fully embrace and support their creative members. We New Zealanders expect to see our stories and perspectives reflected on our airwaves, on film screens, in our literature, and throughout the creative spectrum.

Principled on world stage
New Zealand's sense of national identity is also underpinned by our position as an independent and principled player on the world stage.
My government will continue to ensure that New Zealand contributes positively to the resolution of the many challenges our world faces.back to top

Population diversity

One of the most distinctive features of contemporary New Zealand is our increasingly diverse population.
As New Zealand moves forward, we must address needs across a range of communities and ethnicities.
Social solidarity will be critical to our country’s success. My government will continue to promote tolerance and understanding between all those who make up our nation. The New Zealand way has always been to move forward together, recognising the independence of individuals, while pooling our collective talent for the good of our economy and society.

Dialogue on Treaty – lifting aspirations

The place of Maori in contemporary New Zealand has been a matter of much controversy in recent times.
My government seeks to encourage rational and informed dialogue on the role of the Treaty of Waitangi, and on the rights and responsibilities of the Crown and Maori, and, indeed, of all New Zealanders.
It is time to recognise the emergence of a new, dynamic, confident Maoridom. It is time to lift aspirations, celebrate and encourage success, and not dwell on past failure. Pride in the achievements of all New Zealand communities and peoples must be seen as a cornerstone of the New Zealand way.

Government formation process
The election result has given my government the opportunity to build on the New Zealand way of working that has emerged over the last six years.back to top

MMP inclusive, v FPP winner take all

These (government formation) agreements are an expression of my government’s desire to continue with the broad and inclusive approach which New Zealanders opted for when they replaced the winner-takes-all attitudes of the first past-the-post system with MMP.

Lead development
- of our proud, independent, South Pacific nation

My government is deeply conscious of the honour bestowed on it in taking office again. Its mission is to lead the economic and social development of our proud, independent South Pacific nation. It seeks to work alongside a broad cross section of New Zealanders to achieve the best results for New Zealand.back to top


Parliamentarians pay tribute to David Lange and Rod Donald, reveal national identities

By Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News, Parliamentary Press Gallery

David Lange, former New Zealand Labour Party Prime Minister, and Rod Donald, former Green co-leader were fare welled in an afternoon of speeches in Parliament on November 9, 2005.

Their deaths stimulated direct and indirect references to New Zealand’s evolving national identity, and may stimulate and help a greater consciousness amongst younger and newer New Zealanders as to who we are.back to top

I watched from the Parliamentary Press Gallery and heard what interested radio listeners would have shared as Parliamentarians from all parties elected in September made their tributes.

National identity themes that came to mind were our recent history, changing demography, electoral reform processes, emotion, issues and our people.

The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who introduced national identity pointers in the Speech from the Throne the day before, moved that Parliament record its appreciation to their colleagues, both of whom died before their time should have been up.

History shapes this Parliament
The history that David Lange, as Labour Prime Minister, reacted to and helped shape, brought more market forces to New Zealand between 1984 and 1989. Jim Anderton, a former Labour Party President and now leader of Jim Anderton’s Progressives, recalled the “disastrous” period of the National Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, whom David Lange had defeated. Ron Mark, from New Zealand First, regretted that New Zealanders did not show much inclination to honour great men amongst them, and he named Lange and Norman Kirk. Mark, onetime soldier, had voted for Muldoon until he became impressed by Lange. Ron Mark also recalled Keith Holyoake, the National Party Prime Minister who dominated New Zealand politics in the 1960s. back to top

Holyoake had been Prime Minister in the period when senior people in the current cabinet were university students – and starting to express their feelings about reflecting more principles in New Zealand foreign policy. The mid 1960s were years of protest against NZ involvement in the war in Vietnam, protest against NZ rugby contact with apartheid South Africa. The protesters then who lead cabinet now were from the baby boom generation – conscious that their parents’ generation fought alongside allies in World War Two. The protests of the sixties marked the time when public opinion started to seek influence over foreign policy. National Party leader Keith Holyoake sought to keep New Zealand’s involvement alongside the Americans as small as he could get away with, as he sought to build on relations with those then described as “our great and powerful friends”.

Kirk, Labour Prime Minister in the early seventies until his own early death, sought to reflect New Zealand’s emerging independent national identity. He had a South Pacific Year to help that progress. But Kirk did not distinguish himself as an economic development leader. Bill Rowling, also deceased, had economic management skills, but his brief tenure as PM after Kirk, faced the defeat in the mid seventies by Robert Muldoon and then the leadership challenge of Lange. The Muldoon phenomenon, as Holyoake once described it to me, involved battling for the underdog, appealing to the rednecks, intervening in economic management and moving from traditional National Party values of free enterprise. back to top

Lange government opens up the economy
When Lange defeated Muldoon in 1984 his government embarked on policies to reduce interventions such as wage and price freezes, to internationalise the economy with such influential steps as floating the currency. Lange’s finance minister, Roger Douglas, championed the more market approach. National Party members who believed their party was for free enterprise felt uncomfortable with Muldoon’s interventionist approach. Labour Party members who believed their party was for social justice through active state intervention in economic and social affairs felt uncomfortable with the Lange – Douglas market approach, until David Lange called a halt to have “a cup of tea”.

Fragmentation of parties
In Parliament’s November 2005 tributes to David Lange the living consequences of this history could be experienced. Helen Clark had had to live through the painful periods in this history, and survive to guide the ship of state according to social democratic values. Sitting next to her is Jim Anderton, who had formed New Labour, then the Alliance, then the Progressive party, in his bid to retain the principles and policies he thought the Lange-Douglas government had deserted. Rodney Hide, leader of the ACT Party, was amongst those who characterised David Lange as one of the great New Zealand Prime Ministers. He talked of his predecessor Richard Prebble’s respect for much about Lange, but the same Prebble, like Douglas, was sometimes with and later times against Lange. Douglas, Prebble and Hide have led ACT to continue the internationalisation and economic programme Douglas and colleagues started, but did not finish during Lange’s leadership. Lange’s Labour gave birth to parties pursuing different principles and policies. These included ACT for the more marketers, and the parties Jim Anderton has championed for policies such as intervention to assist regional economic development.back to top

The National Party, led in the nineties successively by Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley, pursued economic policies that avoided the interventionist style of the late Sir Robert Muldoon, and initially enabled finance minister Ruth Richardson to seek to continue the economic direction of Roger Douglas. But electoral forces and values that forced Lange to have his famous cup of tea, and restrain Douglas, also eventually stopped National from continuing more and more market with Ruth Richardson. back to top

Electoral reform
By the end of the nineties Helen Clark had begun the first of her three terms as Prime Minister of coalition governments under the MMP system that arose from the electoral reform movement championed by Rod Donald.

Rod Donald did not like the winner take all features of the former First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system – and in the decades prior to MMP’s formal introduction in the early nineties, issues and processes prepared the ground for a new way of doing politics in New Zealand. Holyoake had been a consensus style politician, but Kirk, Muldoon and Douglas had asserted they could lead New Zealand in their particular directions where they assessed it could go. Opinion polls suggested trust in Parliamentarians was dropping, partly perhaps because some MPs promised this and delivered that. The adversarial style of politics, imported with the Westminster system from the UK, did not sit comfortably with the electoral reformers. They were supported by people who thought proportional representation should produce Parliaments with membership reflecting the votes gained – and the diversity of the population. back to top

Rod Donald, described by Green MP Metirei Turei as a good man, battled for causes outside and inside Parliament. Until the early nineties he was a member of the Labour Party, but like others, shifted his allegiances to a party focused more on what he thought important, rather than working through the broad based party. The social justice and economic sustainability direction of the embryonic Green Party attracted him, but he still preferred the general direction of the Labour Party to the National Party. Hence the Green’s support for the third Clark government, whilst still dissenting from some of the policies Helen Clark has pursued, and whilst being disappointed that Green co-leaders Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons were vetoed from participating in the third Clark cabinet.

The vetoing came from United Future, and from NZ First, who brought Clark crucial Parliamentary votes she needed to have any hope of sustaining a government for three years. Peter Dunne, who leads United Future, and Winston Peters, who leads NZ First, disliked some of the positions Rod Donald and the Green Party espoused. Donald thought a free trade agreement with China would involve Chinese workers causing problems for New Zealand workers. His party inclines to fair trade, the New Zealand agricultural sector’s interests incline the government towards free trade. Nandor Tanczos, the former Green MP, who has taken up his option to succeed Donald, is part of a Green approach that leans towards public health approaches to managing drug use, whilst United Future inclines more to applying the law to drug misuse.back to top

People with so much more to do
Rod Donald was also concerned to advance causes the Green Labour discussions did get onto the government’s agenda, such as sustainable energy policy development, and a Buy Kiwi made campaign.

Green’s feel, as MP Keith Locke told Parliament, there is so much more to do. Sue Bradford, Green MP and self described street activist, talked of what might have been if Rod Donald lived to battle for environmental sustainability, and economic and social justice. Her concern is what might be for children, and beneficiaries, left behind by market forces. United Future’s Gordon Copeland, who had not known Rod Donald before they met in the last Parliament, described the MP he worked with in select committees as “a real battler” – another classic New Zealand identity phrase. Ruth Dyson, another former Labour Party President, told this Parliament she had originally opposed MMP. But she said that she had recently told Rod Donald she had changed her mind. Ron Mark described MMP as one of the best things that had happened for this country. NZ First and the Greens had their disagreements, but they did not always disagree. They share concerns for better incomes for people on low incomes, employment rights to protect casual labour, the rights of the elderly, proper funding for aged care services, and less selling off of state assets.

Ruth Dyson noted David Lange’s dislike of pomp and ceremony. She saw him as “reviving us” after the Muldoon era. Ruth Dyson recognized in Rod Donald the type of Kiwi who put issues onto the national agenda. National Party MP Dr Lockwood Smith was the opposition education spokesperson who had to match David Lange as education minister. Tomorrow’s Schools was a Lange policy to dismantle “hidebound school administration” to become today’s schools Dr Smith said. In his tribute to John Falloon, a former National Agriculture minister who died recently, Dr Smith llustrated a National Party value that influences New Zealand. Falloon had worked to “weaken the shackles of bureaucracy”.

Journey to nationhood
Although some of the causes that were brought back to mind during the Parliamentary tributes have divided the country, New Zealand’s identity has been shaped by adoption of many changes advocated by people in Parliament, such as MMP, and the parties and movements that helped them get there. David Lange was described as a man who championed the underdog – a feature that could be accentuated in defining the values in New Zealand’s national identity. The Lange contribution to New Zealand’s nuclear free policy was noted – with Keith Locke describing it as part of our journey to real nationhood. Don Brash commended David Lange for leading economic reforms, but noted the former Prime Minister left this business unfinished.

Diverse people
New Zealand’s changing demography also plays an increasingly significant role in shaping New Zealand’s identity, and the day of tributes provided a reminder of that. MMP led to increased Maori, Pacific Island and Asian participation in Parliament. The Pacific Island MPs were very specific about David Lange’s contribution to their people who had stepped up their migration for educational and employment opportunities in the sixties and seventies. David Lange and his colleagues were active in identifying the challenges this diversity caused migrant and host, as he describes in a three hour oral archive I did with him a year before his death. New Zealand’s identity is not only being shaped by the settlement of waves of migrants and refugees, but as the 2005 book “New Zealand Identities” reminds, by some migrants forcing the pace and way in which the national identity question is being posed.

Helen Clark recognises that Prime Ministers are as exposed to public view as fish are in fishbowls. Parliamentarians also know that they and their colleagues have private lives, and families they prefer to protect from full public gaze.

Don Brash, and his front bench also spoke appropriately about the deceased Parliamentarians. This was not their chosen moment to go into national identity issues – but their renewed strength in Parliament means they will likely address such issues that unite and divide this nation, with greater force, in the future.

As the tributes drew to a close, the phrase “dedicated to the service of the people” came about David Lange from an MP. Before the House, the staff, visitors and media rose to silently affirm the tribute. Metiria Turei emotionally observed that Parliament was a place of many emotions – but it should add the emotion of sadness.

One of the emotions in the Parliament clearly is support for the institution itself. Our history, the electoral reforms, the issues it grapples with have created a Parliament that reflects the national identity – and makes endeavours to develop it


Former Labour PM Mike Moore

Mike Moore was Prime Minister of New Zealand for eight weeks in 1989, and this review of it was part of his keynote speech to the Airports Council International
World/Pacific Conference, Auckland, November 7th, 2005

This presentation and the story of some of the reforms New Zealand undertook will help explain why I was Prime Minister for such a short time and how an economy became, in a short time, one of the most closed in the democratic world to one of the most open.

But first, I want to welcome our visitors and seek their understanding of our pride in having this opportunity to showcase our young Nation.

Twenty-five years ago you would not have recognised our cities, all have been rebuilt downtown. You couldn’t shop on a Sunday, buy a drink or have dinner. Our wine industry was in its infancy, if you got a bottle of overseas wine it was so exotic you put a candle in the bottle (after you finished the wine), quite trendy. If you wanted a taxi, best book the night before.

We scoured the slums of Birmingham for migrant brick-layers but refused entry to Ph.D.’s from Hong Kong or Singapore. We now have migration as a driver in the economy, makes us richer in every way. It took 4 days to turn a ship around at our waterfront, now less than a day. We had an extra 400 units of local government, several dozen different sales taxes, a top tax rate of over 60 cents and had to ask the permission of government to take money out of the country. Tourism was a minor Ministerial portfolio, we subsidised sheep production, and if you wanted to transport a product over 150kms, it was compulsory to use state-owned railways. Our debt per person and deficit was equal to the Argentine. Import licensing was the name of the game and phoney, crony capitalists pretended to be business people as they grazed off government-inspired subsidies, monopolies and licenses. The central bank did what the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance dictated, the same person for a long time. The dollar fixed, wage and price controls were introduced and failed, as they always do.

Our airports were hangovers from the war with no arms for passengers to get to aircraft, famous for sparrows that were always trapped inside, a monopoly airline inside New Zealand, and a Ministry of Transport which was in fact the Ministry for Air New Zealand, fought against any new airline coming to New Zealand. We reversed these policies. All our airports have been rebuilt, airlines and competition is encouraged. We corporatised and privatised, dropped top tax rates, introduced a value-added tax, created an independent central bank, floated our dollar, opened immigration, made the export of education our 4th biggest export income earner, and saw tourism become our biggest employer and foreign exchange earner.back to top

We are now, according to a United Nations report, the best and easiest place to do business. We are, with Hong Kong and Singapore, the most open of economies. Each year, according to Transparency International, we are in the top 3 as the least corrupt countries.

I thank the sponsors of the conference and commend them to you because I know of their work all around the world. So we are ready, willing and able, open for business, seek no favours and want to compete. Our hope is that good business opportunities will come from this conference as well as good ideas, better practices, more efficiencies, and therefore better outcomes.back to top


Endorsers of the new NZ Flag campaign endorsers and trustees, outside Parliament, launch the petition calling for a referendum to change the flag

L to R: Richard Riddiford, Mark Weldon, Graham Mourie, Reverend John Murray, Keith Quinn, Barnaby Weir, Lindsey Dawson, Lloyd Morrison, Kyle Lockwood, Paul Ridley-Smith and Dame Kate Harcourt

The campaign suggests projects for schools on its website


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