What Australia Can Learn From New Zealand with Laura Tingle

In this episode of Follow the Money, Laura Tingle, chief political correspondent for the ABC’s 7.30 discusses what Australia can learn from New Zealand; how both countries have been governed and the different way each has dealt with its colonial legacy.

The Australia Institute
3 min readJan 20, 2021

New Zealand has been held up as a model for everything from privatisation, to the conduct of politics, to the response to COVID-19.

With a number of parallels between Australia and New Zealand presently and historically, in this special summer episode of Follow the Money, listen to Laura Tingle talk about what these two countries can learn from each other. Starting at the heart of decision making, Government.

New Zealand has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, where voters have a party and an electorate vote. Party votes dictate the proportion of seats in Parliament that each party has.

The consequence of this is that New Zealand’s political parties are much more likely to require a coalition agreement to form Government.

“Everybody [in New Zealand] knows that they might have to be nice to the other parties in the system. And as a result, everybody does tend to be more civilised.”
- Laura Tingle, in discussion with The Australia Institute.

A coalition of parties in Government tends to be seen in Australia as a blockage to reform. But in New Zealand, both Helen Clark and John Key on both sides of politics have managed to get significant reforms through, partly because New Zealand politicians have had to learn to live with each other, be civilised, and negotiate.

New Zealand reminds us that political discussions don’t have to be so completely divided and ludicrously oversimplified as they have often become in Australia and around the world.

“It’s a question of New Zealand’s honour.”

Laura Tingle’s essay also compares the treatment of First Nations people. In an example of the stark difference in the approach of both countries, New Zealand’s former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger said, “It’s a question of New Zealand’s honour.”

“I remember reading that quote and just being blown away by, I thought it was just extraordinary just because you go, when was the last time anybody talked about honour in Australia about anything?”
- Laura Tingle, in discussion with The Australia Institute.

In New Zealand, there were institutional changes through which the Maori people could be heard. For example, recognising the Maori language as an official language of New Zealand, truth-telling reconciliation, the recording of the history of wrongs, and addressing breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The second was that political leaders took ownership and responsibility for getting these things sorted. As Jim Bolger said, it became a matter of honour.

In Australia, the federal Coalition government basically rejected the Statement from the Heart and its call for a Voice, Treaty, Truth.

Both Australia and New Zealand have been among the most successful countries in controlling COVID-19, and in terms of the economic response, have had similar approaches.

However, New Zealand’s treatment of the arts was one standout, on the basis of having seen how important the arts were in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes economically. Additionally, New Zealand’s equivalent of JobKeeper & JobSeeker payments, took the approach of creating permanent increases in income, creating certainty and security for the recipients.

Listen to Laura Tingle on Follow the Money with Alex Sloan and Ben Oquist here.

Read Laura Tingle’s Quarterly Essay: The High Road: What Australia Can Learn From New Zealand, here.

Subscribe to the Australia Institute’s podcast series Follow The Money on iTunes, Spotify, or on the Australia Institute’s website.