It’s not every day I feel the need to congratulate a politician—even a retired one.
But the Australian award presented by Julia Gillard yesterday to retired Muldoon-era cabinet minister Hugh Templeton deserves respect, since the positive effects of what he did are still being felt, and still need to go further.
In Muldoon’s nine-year reign, there were only two real forward steps his tyrannised cabinet ever made.* The greatest of these was the Closer Economic Relations deal with Australia, which liberalised trade relations between the two countries, increased the prosperity of both countries, and began the process of moving us closer together.
That deal was driven by Hugh Templeton, who said yesterday the deal was necessary and the process he began really needs to continue.
"It was strategically the number one issue for New Zealand," Mr Templeton said.
"We had to get it. We had to do it ... we had to get this as the basis for broadening the basis of our economy and giving our manufacturing sector a decent market."
Without it, our fate would have been to become "a little New Zealand getting littler in the South Pacific."
It makes sense, he said. And as he said it I thought, “He’s right.” “It does.”
... if we had a full-scale economic union with a common currency etc with Australia we would be much better protected from the rather vulnerable position in which New Zealand is. It's as simple as that."
But a decade of economic good times had encouraged governments to put off hard decisions and fail to make the most of opportunities that CER presented. Both countries should have moved towards a common market in the 1990s and economic and currency union in the 2000s.
And why can’t we?
It’s somewhat astonishing to contemplate the irony that European enemies who have been shooting, bombing and barbarising each other for centuries can now enjoy open borders with each other, and share a common market and a common currency,*** but Australia and New Zealand—who are family—can not.
Are we really that provincial?
PS: Hugh Templeton spoke to Mary Wilson on Checkpoint last night about his award, and the importance of further progress on the project he started. LISTEN HERE.
PPS: Incidentally, Hugh Templeton is now involved with a group called the Foundation for Economic Growth who are unflinching in supporting free markets, sound money and REAL Economics. I thoroughly recommend them, and would suggest you sign up for their weekly newsletters.
* The other forward step was taken by George Gair, who removed the arcane restriction on transporting things more than 100km by road. This ridiculous piece of protectionism was supposed to protect failed rail from competition. Instead it strangled local industry, and left their goods hostage to the inefficiencies and thieving of rail “workers.”.
Of course, the Muldoon government did also scrap Labour’s government superannuation scheme, a forerunner to Kiwisaver. But that was an election pledge, and driven by Muldoon. It didn’t involve the cabinet.
** Yes, Virginia, a common free banking system would be preferable. But there are too many hurdles presently lying lying that road. There is only one lying along the road to a common currency: New Zealand’s provincialism.
*** Not without problems, I’ll grant you. But none that couldn’t be solved by throwing out the statism.