Letters – Issue 48

Trade and politics

I have a number of comments on Terence O’Brien’s review, in your March issue, of New Zealand in World Affairs, Volume III, 1972-1990, which I edited.

The first is about New Zealand’s long and successful rearguard action to retain access to the British butter market after Britain entered the European Economic Community in 1973. O’Brien disparages what I wrote about the lessening of British support in the early phase of the 1988 negotiations. He contended, first, that we had long been principally responsible for our own negotiations and, secondly, that British concerns by then were essentially about the size of their contribution (in their view excessive) to the Community’s budget.

It is quite true that by 1988 New Zealand had long taken responsibility for negotiating directly with the European Commission and other Community members. We would have done so anyway, but the British certainly expected us to and to be seen to do so. But firm British support, within the Community, for our continued access remained vital in the negotiations, every three or five years, for the steadily reduced quantities that the other Community members could be persuaded to agree to – and every member had a veto, as the French and the Irish well knew.

Now, as to the British EEC budget contribution, it is also true that for some years after their entry the British saw this as a major issue. Foreign Office officials (not Agriculture) sometimes remarked to me – in the earlier years of my term as Deputy High Commissioner in London, 1981-85, when I was responsible for these access questions – that they had had to spend some precious negotiating coin on New Zealand access, which they might otherwise have devoted to reducing their proportion of the Community budget. In other words, their support for New Zealand access was not cost-free to them.

As for the 1988 negotiations, I based my comments on lessened British support in the initial stages on the account – which I clearly documented – given by Bryce Harland, then New Zealand High Commissioner in London and closely involved in these negotiations, in his book On Our Own (1993).

Terence O’Brien refers to our cooperation with the EEC (and the US and others) in world dairy marketing. We did reach such agreements from time to time, especially within the GATT International Dairy Agreement (IDA). But the fact remains that the Community’s heavily subsidised exports soon pushed New Zealand down from being the world’s leading dairy exporter into a distant second place. We have now regained much ground because, again, of the Uruguay Round, which restricted export subsidisation.

Concerning the damage done to New Zealand’s international interests by the ANZUS dispute of 1984-85, in my view we were lucky that the American reaction was not stronger. The Americans were, of course, in a dilemma. To take no counteraction might have given overt encouragement to anti-nuclear and anti-American quarters in countries of more importance to the United States, notably Japan. But to be seen bullying a small former ally, especially in economic terms, might also have been counter-productive, a view I share with Mr O’Brien.

As to Mr O’Brien’s comments on what is not in the book, an editor has to make hard choices in face of many competing demands for necessarily limited space. I had to judge priorities and in that process take into account what other studies had recently been published or were in preparation. In this respect, I knew that two major books on apartheid and sporting contacts – by Malcolm Templeton and Trevor Richards respectively, from differing viewpoints – were likely to appear at much the same time as Volume III, as indeed they did. Hence I did not accord the issue a separate chapter. As for New Zealand in the United Nations, I thought New Zealand as an International Citizen (1995), edited by Malcolm Templeton, covered much of that ground. Many other issues – notably the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and its consequences and developments in Southeast Asia – remain for a Volume IV on the 1990s.

Bruce Brown



Radio drama is alive and well

Anna Cottrell’s review of Patrick Day’s Voice and Vision, vol 2, (March 2001) was fascinating, but there’s one key error in it that your readers may or may not wish to have drawn to their attention.

Anna gave the impression that radio drama no longer exists at Radio New Zealand. Fortunately, this is not the case. Radio New Zealand Drama remains the country’s biggest purchaser of original short fiction. And we continue to produce a small number of radio plays.

It’s true that radio drama has been wound down quite steadily over the last 20 years; unlike Concert FM or Kim Hill, we are not supported by the Friends of Public Radio. Fortunately, as with Concert FM, no politician has actually had the guts to close us down. So, instead, we have been subjected to a long-term “death by a thousand cuts”. Ideally, when we reach a suitable state of invisibility, the coup de grâce will be a mere formality. Obviously, if Anna Cottrell thinks we’re gone already, this formality can’t be too far away.

But in the meantime, this is actually a golden age for radio drama. Digital sound has opened amazing new possibilities for the medium, and the nation’s best writers are queuing up to write for us. Right now, we have new projects on the way from Vincent O’Sullivan, Toby Manhire, Peter Hawes, and a dozen or so other fantastic writers. Their plays are original artworks written for our medium, which even city folk will never see in a playhouse. (And not one of them involves crinolines, so they’ll obviously never pass muster as “quality television drama”!)

Steve Danby
Executive Producer – Drama
Radio New Zealand


Research and development

The invention of new words or meanings by Charlotte Randall’s Lonsdale in The Curative (reviewed in our December 1999 issue) appears acceptable in the context of his being sanest of all and visionary in his heightened, almost exalted, state of awareness. But was the frequent employment of present-day colloquialisms by other characters intended or are they there because the author couldn’t be bothered getting the early 19th century context right?

Margaret Atwood recently told us how much trouble she took with research, to the extent of having someone check the height of a bridge for a detail in The Blind Assassin. Charlotte Randall does not appear to have taken much trouble to check the background of one of her key characters. This might have uncovered rich material. Edward Wakefield was not the grey-haired, unworldly Quaker she depicts. He was a lapsed Quaker who scorned his pious relatives; an arch-womaniser who, just a few years after the inquiry referred to in the novel, secretly married a second wife 20 years younger. He would not have known what his first wife was like as a girl because, when he married her, he was 17 and she seven years older. Far from professing no expertise on madhouses, Edward Wakefield would have told Lonsdale of all his intensive researches and his walking journeys about England (eg, to the West Country with Francis Place) to inspect them. Wakefield was one of the first to apply statistical research methods to planning and management. And so on.

My point is not to say what facts or information should have been in The Curative  about Edward Wakefield, but to suggest what an understanding of his character might have brought to the fictional dialogue between him and the prisoner Lonsdale; the marvellous exchange of ideas that could have been explored in the areas of both social values and personal moralities. This might then have turned a post-modern joke into a great novel. Atwood is right – it does pay to measure the height of the bridge.

Philip Temple


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