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NZ a seventh state of Australia? Never

opinion

By Q+A producer Tim Watkin

Published: 2:10PM Wednesday March 17, 2010 Source: Q+A

After we released the UMR poll results on Q+A this past Sunday, New Zealand's been having a ding-dong go over the question of whether we should become the seventh state of Australia.

It's a good debate to have, and to keep having, not least because we New Zealanders - pakeha in particular - don't spend enough time thinking about our history, our sovereignty and our constitutional life.

This year we're facing a constitutional review, due to the Maori Party's coalition deal with National, and preparing for an MMP referendum. We're also obsessed with mimicking Australia's wealth. So we need to be talking about what this all means for the future of our national life.

What are our priorities? What made us the way we are? What do we value most? What defines us as people of this land? And what do we want to become?

The stand out result for me from this poll , glossed over in most news reports, is that New Zealanders overwhelmingly rejected tying our horse to the Australian wagon even though - and here's the kicker - they believed we'd be better off if we did. Almost three-quarters (71%) were opposed to us becoming the seventh state, even though many New Zealanders thought we'd be economically better off (37% better off, 27% worse off, 25% no difference).

Now I think they're wrong about being richer as Australians; our independence has a significant dollar value, although I wouldn't begin to guess how much. But the point is that New Zealanders thought, "bugger the profit, being a New Zealander is more important than money". And you gotta love that.

The other telling point is that young New Zealanders were the most opposed to union. Of those aged 60 and over, 34% supported the idea; 45-59 year olds, 24%; 30-44 year-olds, 20%; 18-29 year-olds, 16%. Most 18-29 year-olds (51%) were "strongly opposed".

Many argue that New Zealand and Australia are being drawn closer and closer together as we link our economies and live in each other's cities. Sir Don McKinnon said on Q+A that eventual union between the two countries was probably "inevitable".

I believe the opposite. And I put it down to what I call the Shortland Street effect. The homegrown soap began screening in 1992 and it was around then that our decades old cultural cringe began to fade. Most baby-boomers remember when anything made by or in New Zealand (farm produce aside) was second-best, a bit cringe-worthy, not as good as stuff from overseas. Music, TV, clothes, any expression of our cultural life, was just a bit naff.

That has changed in my lifetime. The Maori renaissance in the 1970s gave it a push, writers such as Michael King and Maurice Gee kicked it along, the Dunedin Sound did its bit... and then in the 1990s Shortland Street arrived, and we got a soap opera - a format that's replicated in every developed country around the globe, and a few developing countries as well - and it didn't make us cringe. We took a universal style, made it our own and we liked it because it looked like us.

New Zealanders in their 30s and younger now take a separate national identity as a given. New Zealand stuff is great. We buy New Zealand made happily. We watch and read and listen to New Zealand. We value our own voices and we recognise that they're different from voices overseas; even from voices in Australia.

So rather than closing the gap, I think the Tasman is getting wider by the day, and will keep getting wider. Sure, a single economic market is inevitable and business ties will grow. But our national identities and our politics are more different now than they've ever been.

We're more fully New Zealanders today than ever before. So thanks Australia, it's nice to know we've got a friendly neighbour, one that's so prosperous at the moment (even though that could change). But we're happy as we are, and as who we are.

We won't be joining you as a seventh state. Not now, not ever.

Q+A is live at 9.00am on Sundays on TV ONE.

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