New Zealand Alternative
July 29 2019 by Thomas Nash
Prior to moving home to New Zealand in 2017, I had been living overseas working on humanitarian and disarmament campaigns. I was abroad for 16 years, and as a proud New Zealander I frequently promoted my country as a humanitarian, peacekeeping, environmentalist, progressive multicultural society. At the time I believed these narratives completely, however, now that I am home, I know that the perspectives I shared with people in Laos or Lebanon were not truthful representations of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Since my return I have been confronted by the deeply contested identity within New Zealand society. We celebrate our nuclear-free status and the suffragette movement as defining foundations of our modern society. Yet other inspiring dimensions to our shared history are less well known. The role of Kate Shepherd as an anti-war activist and the role of Parihaka in inspiring Ghandi on strategic non-violence are two significant examples.
I began thinking about the contradictions which exist between how we see ourselves in New Zealand, and how the rest of the world views our society. I began thinking more broadly about how our identity shapes the role of Aotearoa New Zealand in the world. Instinctively I also began seeking platforms to share new ideas on how New Zealand engages on the global stage.
I discovered that the conversations relating to our role in the world are often reserved for academics, diplomats, business leaders and suited officials. Foreign policy is not an area that receives much political or media attention and the conversations tend to exclude Maori, Pasifika, young people and community organisations.
As a response, in 2018 a group of us set up New Zealand Alternative - an organisation dedicated to opening up public discussion and debate about the role our country should play in the world. We want to start a conversation with communities around the country and to generate creative ideas for what we might do as a progressive actor in the world.
We’ve started to open up the space to ask these important questions. We’ve produced a report proposing that New Zealand build on our effective peace mediation work in Bougainville in the 1990s and set up a Conflict Prevention Unit.
We’ve got some good ideas about how New Zealand can be a leader in progressive politics in the globalised era and we’re working on some policy briefs that address initiatives such as a global treaty to phase out fossil fuels, and rethinking colonialism, sovereignty, free association and migration in the Pacific.
We’re holding community hui around the country from Whangarei to Dunedin to discuss what an independent foreign policy for New Zealand might look like. Our Queenstown workshop is being co-hosted by Catalyst Trust.
Among the questions we are asking are, if a small Pacific nation like New Zealand can have an impact on global issues - how, what and why should it be? We look forward to Queenstown community’s input, which will be included in the framing of multiple policy papers due out by the end of the year.
This is a great chance to have an informed discussion about global issues that matter. Please join us at The Rees Hotel Queenstown, 6 to 8:30 PM, Wednesday, August 7. Registration is required on Catalyst Trust’s Eventbrite page, as numbers are limited and dinner will be provided for those who register. Further information about the event on www.catalystnz.org or on Facebook, catalystnz.QT. For further information on New Zealand Alternative, see https://www.nzalternative.org/