Wednesday 11 December 2013

Boris the Wizard of Oz - Salisbury Review, Winter 2013-14

The redoubtable Boris had just won over the locals, extolling the merits of Melbourne, as he delivered the keynote speech at the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival: a city of “dynamism and openness and generosity” and “blessed like London with a superb climate, public bicycles, free museums, and a brilliant Oystercard system called the Myki whose complexities I have yet to fathom.” Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm that prompted Sally Roycroft, an Australian teacher, to acquaint the Mayor of London with her story. Possessing an Australian passport rather than a EU one, she informed him, had brought an abrupt end to her career as an educator in London.

Johnson, at this point, was at the end of a glorious family holiday in our “phenomenally beautiful” country that included visits to Cairns and the Kakadu National Park. The Land of Oz, it turned out, also evoked wonderful memories of a year spent in Victoria as a young man, drinking Victoria Bitter “at 11 a.m., a skill that has proved invaluable in what passes for my political career.” Moved by Roycroft’s tale, Johnson immediately dashed off a missive to the Daily Telegraph decrying British authorities for, effectively, telling Roycroft to “bog off”. “Outrageous and indefensible,” he declared, that “skilled people like Sally” should be subject to “an absurd discrimination”. How was it that an Australian could be “deprived of a freedom that we legally confer on every French person”? He recommended the creation, forthwith, of a “bilateral Free Labour Mobility Zone” between the UK and Australia to safeguard the “throbbing intercontinental two-way pipeline” that has traditionally existed between the two countries.

Sally Roycroft’s predicament, he asserted, was the “infamous consequence” of the “historic and strategic decision” taken by the United Kingdom in 1973: “We betrayed our relationships with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and entered into preferential trading arrangements with what was then the European Economic community.” In the Daily Telegraph piece, Johnson implored his compatriots to “seek a wider destiny for our country” and, what is more, if the EU criticised closer relationships between Australia and the United Kingdom, then the Euroland bureaucrats should be told to “stuff it”.

As things stand, however, Westminster does not necessarily possess the right to thumb its nose at the 27-nation nation EU. The real hope for a closer connection between Australia and the United Kingdom – not to mention a revitalisation of the Anglosphere in general – would be for the UK to quit the EU. An outcome, we may assume, Prime Minister David Cameron will do his utmost to prevent, the promise of an in-out referendum in 2017 notwithstanding. The most urgent priority for liberty-loving Britons should be recovering the sovereignty lost when their economic partnership with Europe transmutated into a political affiliation, and a power-shift from London to Brussels, host city of the official seats of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, the European Council and, for all intents and purposes, the European Parliament.                              

The EU, according to Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom: How the English-speaking People Made the Modern World (2013), recognizes in theory the primacy of the rule of law, democratic government and individual liberty, and yet in practice is quite ready to “subordinate all three to political imperatives”. The voters of France (2005), the Netherlands (2005) and Ireland (2008) unambiguously rejected the European Constitution (The Lisbon Treaty), and yet it was imposed on those three countries regardless. Adding insult to injury, controversial policies such as the eurozone bailouts have been pursued by the EU against the spirit and the letter of a constitution that was never properly legitimised in the first place. The United Kingdom, laments Hannan, finds itself ensnared in an undemocratic, unrepresentative, supra-national system of government that “sets aside” the rule of law at its own convenience.                           

Were the UK to extricate itself from the EU and “seek a wider destiny”, on the other hand, it might want to study the partnership between Australia and New Zealand that has evolved in the in the wake of the Mother Country “joining” Europe. The two antipodean lands enjoy a relationship that is probably closer than any other two sovereign nations, and yet each retains complete political independence from the other. The Kiwis declined the offer to join the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 and have never seriously regretted the decision. Membership of the Commonwealth would have provided New Zealand with a dozen seats in the Australian Senate and approximately a seventh of the seats in Australia’s House of Representatives, but it would have also condemned the Land of the Long White Cloud to the status of a perennial province. 

The Anzac tradition, born out of the heroic failure of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign and strengthened by the shared success on the Western Front in 1918, has a sacred place in the history of both nations. Anzac Day, April 25, is a national holiday nowhere in the world except Australia and New Zealand. In fact, we have an inordinate amount in common, and even the fierceness of our sporting clashes has all the hallmarks of a sibling rivalry. That said, New Zealand is a sovereign nation and as such controls its own destiny, which includes a ban on American vessels propelled by nuclear power or carrying nuclear weapons entering its domestic waters. Despite playing a role in Afghanistan, Wellington proved far less supportive than Canberra of George W Bush’s intervention in Iraq, and has taken a more circuitous route than its Trans-Tasman neighbour on the way to establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the USA. One might disagree with any number of New Zealand’s foreign policy initiatives, but its right to make those decisions – and enjoy the benefits or sufferer the fall-out from them – is not disputed by its antipodean ally.   

It is in the context of this mutual respect for sovereignty that a Free Labour Mobility Zone – Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, to be exact – already exists between New Zealand and Australia. This arrangement allows Australian and New Zealand citizens to live and work in each other’s country without restriction, subject to criminal records and health concerns. At the present, 55,000 Australians (out of a population of 23 million) live and work in New Zealand, while a staggering 650,000 New Zealand citizens (out of a population of only 4.5 million) reside in Australia. The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement works because it is pragmatic rather than utopian. While a New Zealand working in Australia must pay tax on his earnings, he does not have access to Australian social security payments. Moreover, the scheme provides no fast track to Australian citizenship, since those who make use of it may only do so if they retain their New Zealand citizenship.

New Zealand PM John Key has lobbied successive Australian leaders to modify the original deal and allow New Zealanders here to receive social security payments (as Australian wage-earners do in New Zealand). In response to Key’s latest entreaty, Tony Abbott replied: “I am very happy with the situation right now, which is Kiwis coming here know that they’re expected to pay taxes from day one and so many of them do.” John Key’s response, a polite acknowledgment of the realities of dealing with another wholly self-governing country, says a lot about the value of national autonomy: “In the end, we totally respect the sovereign right of the Australian government to make the decision how it will treat people who come and work in Australia.”                                          

The argument that the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement turns New Zealanders into second-class Australian citizens overlooks the fact that the scheme makes it possible for so many Kiwis to live and work here in the first place. There are ways and means for a New Zealander to obtain Australian citizenship, but that is a completely different issue from somebody in New Zealand having the opportunity to live and work in another English-speaking country at their own discretion. Sally Roycroft would no doubt be thrilled if the EU allowed the United Kingdom to put in place an arrangement similar to the one that already exists between New Zealand and Australia.

There are, of course, other benefits to be gained from creating bilateral Free Labour Mobility Zones right across the Anglosphere – New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, UK, and whoever else might be included. Sally Roycroft’s vocation as an educator goes some of the way to explaining to why. The English-speaking world is bound together not only by the obvious linguistic connection but also an attendant cultural sensibility which is predicated on the long-held English traditions of rule of law and individual liberty, concepts that that the modern-day Left in all our respective countries seek to diminish. Australians do not yearn to return to the era of the Pax Britannica, and yet Stratford-on-Avon, Samuel Johnson’s House, Kensington Palace and the Houses of Parliament are no less a part of our story than they were in the past. Sally Roycroft, who once upon a time taught in London, would no doubt concur.                                 

This article appears in The Salisbury Review, Winter 2013-14