In the 1920s and 30s some Labour Party leaders hoped to insulate New Zealand from the world so they could put their socialist experiments into practice. Michael Joseph Savage told people in 1936 that “we must insulate ourselves from abroad”. He believed using Reserve Bank credit – printing money - would ensure there were enough funds for his Welfare State. But he still had to borrow, and when the supply of overseas funds contracted sharply in 1938, Savage’s government introduced a system of import controls that required ministerial approval for imports. Coupled with tariffs on foreign-made goods, the new system constructed a greenhouse in which small local manufacturers could flower, creating jobs. This all but forced people to “buy New Zealand products”. At first it all sounded progressive, until it became clear that the greenhouse products cost more than similar items could be imported for, and were often of inferior quality. For instance, a TV assembled in Paeroa cost twice the price that one could be imported from Japan if it were not for the regulations. As a consequence, after World War II our country experienced an inflation rate that exceeded that of our trading partners. We slipped from enjoying the third highest living standard in the world to 21st by 1984. Moreover, we still weren’t completely self-sufficient. We still had to rely on the sale of our agricultural products abroad to import farm machinery, cars, medicines and technology. In other words, Fortress New Zealand couldn’t be made to work. Instead, it became the underlying cause of the revolutionary economic changes that had to occur after 1984.
But Jacinda Ardern’s government knows no history and seems incapable of delivering anything except nice-sounding slogans. She and her ministers couldn’t be happier with a scenario where the borders are closed and all major initiatives have to be run past them first. Covid has provided her ministry with the perfect excuse to keep the borders closed as long as possible. The painfully slow ordering of vaccines for New Zealanders, meaning that we have the slowest vaccination rate in the OECD, isn’t happening accidentally. It’s part of the government’s plan. If the Delta Variant creeps in, that will provide a platform for daily press conferences where the Prime Minister can look concerned and wave phony solutions, and fill the TV news programmes. But like Savage’s, her strategy will fail in the long run. New Zealand relies too heavily on trade, and already many business people are champing at the bit, wanting to travel so they can meet with customers. Jacinda might still hope that we can be self-sufficient, but New Zealand never has been, and never will be. Efforts to create her Wonderland will fail.
At least the First Labour Government under Peter Fraser and Dr Clarence Beeby understood the importance of education. This time, the Labour Government is trying to cement into New Zealanders’ consciousness the notion that we are different and should close our minds to protect our unique culture. This is where the “all things Maori” policy fits in. The government is re-writing school syllabuses to promote nonsense Maori assertions about the “evils” of colonialism using fundamentally flawed versions of New Zealand’s history. Same with the promotion of Maori “science”. International agencies have recently shown that our language and mathematical skills are in serious decline in schools, but the ministry will push the decline a little faster. Ministers won’t make any serious effort to cure school truancy, and nor will any extra hours be added to the school day to make up for the time wasted on compulsory Kapa Haka and Te Reo. They are enjoying the smokescreen created by promoting Maori. If this goes on too long, many young Kiwis when the borders inevitably have to reopen won’t be able to make head nor tail of the wider world because they haven’t been adequately educated to understand it, nor to communicate with it. And we can scarcely expect our trading partners to communicate with us in Te Reo. Instead, more and more communication will be done in semi-literate grunts by Kiwis whose English and maths skills have become so feeble that they will always be outsmarted on the world’s trading floors.
Our media which used to investigate stories and uncover the cause of problems besetting us are playing a big part in nudging along the country’s relative decline. Radio New Zealand’s endless interspersing of English expressions with jumbles of Maori words competes with our two TV stations using invented Maori place names for cities that were always settler creations. The New Zealand Herald appears close to needing life-support, and is adding its five cents worth to the pending catastrophe.
Fortress New Zealand can’t survive in the long run: we need the world too much, and eventually the penny will drop that Labour’s ideological greenhouse can only continue if we collectively opt to drift off into complete irrelevance. Somewhere, sometime, someone will rise up and say “Enough of these mad, failed agendas! Let’s work towards re-opening borders and restoring an economy where we once demonstrated our capacity to shine”.