Hillary Lecture 2009
The Sir Edmund Hillary Lecture delivered by Rt Hon Sir Donald McKinnon ONZ GCVO
Auckland Museum Sept 17th 2009.
It is an honour for me to stand here and deliver the annual Hillary Lecture. I want particularly to acknowledge members of the Hillary family present this evening, especially June Lady Hillary, Sarah Hillary and other family members.
Many others have spoken most eloquently before me and covered a wide range of topics.
I have noted that you’ve heard in previous lectures , the Hillarys, father and son, Sir Hugh Kauwherau, actress come politician Glenda Jackson and others, all with interesting messages.
All of them, in different and distinctive ways, have addressed issues and interests they deem important and challenged us all to think deeply about them.
What I intend doing this evening is to look at some of the outstanding characteristics that Sir Edmund Hillary brought to bear on his life's work and whether we can apply lessons from his life and achievements to the challenges facing New Zealand today. I hope to provoke discussion and debate on some areas of importance to New Zealand.
I want mostly to deal with the present and the future but indulge me for a short time as we look back to 1953. Believe me, it doesn't really seem that long ago to some of us.
My first memory of the name Edmund Hillary was a crackling and barely audible BBC broadcast piped into my 4th form (year 10 to the younger generation) class at Nelson College on May 29 1953 announcing that this hitherto unknown kiwi had conquered the world's highest mountain.
The previous year the same crackle and static announced the death of King George VI. In the 1950s if news did not come with ebbing and flowing volume, much static and crackling it could not be very important.
How proud we were in 1953, there were no barriers to what an intrepid kiwi could do.
Of course your own country tends to influence the way the news is presented and in the intervening 50 years Ed Hillary's name would come up in lights at regular intervals, and all of them proud moments for those of us at the bottom of the world.
So while it was predictable, I must admit to a sense of sadness and irritation on the 50th anniversary of that most famous of climbs May 2003. I was living in London and the ascent of Everest anniversary stories covered most of the two pages of one of the prominent London papers. And what were the headlines ?? The most successful British expedition gets to the Everest summit ! And Sir John Hunt – great leader conquers Everest . No headlines for Sir Ed in that city !! Although he did make the small print. No greater example perhaps of success having many fathers.
It brought back something I had not thought of for years. I lived in the United States as a teenager in the US and loved watching a quiz show called “You Bet Your Life” compered by one Groucho Marx. He asked a question of a contestant “Where did Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Everest come from?” England ! replied the contestant and he walked away with the highest $100 prize.
I told my folks about this travesty and was told I should write to the TV station pointing out their error.
That I did in 1956, and as of this morning, no reply has yet been received.
For our now world famous Ed Hillary, climbing Everest was not enough, there was the race across Antarctica and those amazing Fergusson tractors, and then why not a river journey up the Ganges from the sea to the mountains, and why not the North Pole as well.
Not only did our heroic fellow kiwi have a strong physique and immense courage but his leadership skills were growing year by year.
Gradually he became, to those of us outside his immediate family, a larger than life character and to whatever extent we got to know the real Ed, we honoured and loved him for more than 50 years. He was, quite simply, our greatest hero, our most revered fellow countryman.
I have visited more than 130 countries and I can tell you he’s known everywhere. While giving a lecture at Harvard last year I met 4 Americans all of whom came to Auckland for his funeral.
So how do we sum up this great man and what do we learn from him?
I did not meet him till the mid 1980s when I dined with him in Orewa after a statue of him was unveiled in – yes – Hillary Square.
And in 1993 along with Clare and a few friends, I held a fund raiser in Wellington for the Himalayan Trust, also marking the 40th anniversary of the ascent of Everest. We called it a Salute to Sir Ed, and we cheekily, we thought, charged people $1,000 to come to dinner and have the chance to spend even more on generously donated auction items. It sold out almost as soon as the ink dried on the tickets. In the end we gave him a cheque for $65,000 which pleased him immensely. To my surprise, Ed told me this was the first time there had been a fundraising dinner in NZ solely for his causes overseas causes – normally he only got that sort of money in the US! Maybe we'd all thought someone else in New Zealand was doing the Ed Hillary thing, when in fact, only Ed and his family were.
As Foreign Minister I came to appreciate the work he did and the exceptional entree he had as our High Commissioner to India.
Doors opened before he had even arrived.
From these introductory comments and small vignettes I’m trying to draw together what we can learn from his life, the man and his achievements.
The man of determination, courage, compassion, boldness, humour, endurance and the adjectives continue. He was a true Internationalist and spent much time helping those who had little.
As a first point, Sir Ed was one who took on the world the way it was , not what he wanted it to be. He was a visionary but accepted that which he could not change.
Not so long after Sir Ed's death, the world went through a financial tsunami and it's left most people, in most countries, feeling pretty uncertain about the future.
Where did that leave us ?
Well – As New Zealanders, we all want to be proud of our country - to realise its potential, despite an abundance of obstacles and barriers, not least geographical.
When we reflect on all our challenges many of Ed Hillary's fundamental beliefs and practices could serve us well.
Point No. One Being well prepared for any eventuality must be near to the top of the list – are we, as we step into the unknown, as prepared as Ed was? The world today !! ??
The American (Indian born) writer Fareed ZAKARIA referred to the (1) rise
If the western world from the 15th century (2) The rise of the US from the late 19th century and (3) now the rise of the rest – China, India, Brazil, Korea and South Africa. He was right and this is happening as we speak.
These changes will have an enormous impact on us in a way that we have not experienced before. The expansion of these emerging giants is going to place huge demands on our policy makers to ensure we are on the right course and not left out in the cold, just hoping for a return to yesterday and its cosy comforts.
Do we need to change course? Are we ready? Do we have the right equipment??
Are we prepared to do some things differently?
A small picture of the world today -
24 of the largest multinationals are outside the US and Europe.
Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood and there's more gambling in Macao than Las Vegas.
And there is 60% less fighting and warfare than there was 20 years ago.
Of the 10 biggest shopping malls in the world only one is in the US.
And without diminishing the plight of the have nots, real poverty has dropped globally from 40% to 20% and we’ve never seen greater mobility of working people as in recent years.
Sadly there's never much respite from the horrors of war in Iraq, Afghanistan or until recently Sri Lanka, or terrorism and infectious disease outbreaks elsewhere. But as global communication makes it possible for us to know all about the conflicts and challenges, remember nothing we’ve seen in the last few years matches the two million killed in Cambodia or the one million who died in the Iran/Iraq war when CNN and others had packed up their cameras to follow sexier stories to other parts of the world.
In many ways the world is a safer place with people a little better off but we have to ask, will this continue ?.
There are more democracies, many in the very early stages of development – so don’t expect too much; military dictatorships and single party states have diminished so in a macro-sense the glass is more than half full.
That's good news but where does that leave us New Zealanders of mixed heritage at the bottom of the South Pacific ?
For me a beginning is how we engage with the rest of the world. I have been dealing with much of the world at the political level since 1990 and feel I can talk about this with some authority.
The rest of the world will determine our economic future and that will determine our ability to live in harmony with equal opportunities for all. BUT that doesn't mean we sit back ; only WE can maximise opportunities in climbing that slippery economic ladder.
My former Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon said of Foreign Policy generally that “the flag follows trade”. Meaning, crudely, if there was no trade don’t bother having a diplomatic or political relationship.
Well that might have been ok then but it's not ok now.
One thing I’ve learned in 20 years of International politics is that everything is interconnected. There are trade offs everywhere, and nothing can be isolated. With the exception of a few countries all will attempt to negotiate their own positions, and do deals to enhance their own situation. So to make the most of your position you have to know what values you bring to any problem or issue and what you want from others. You must understand that very competitive environment. Just because you don’t have a relationship with country X doesn’t mean that country X can’t threaten your much valued relationship with Country Y .
Having been responsible for NZ foreign policy for 9 years and following it closely from London for another 9, I can say we’re generally doing the right thing and its probably only money and trained people that prevents us doing more.
Yes, we’ve got a great engagement with the Pacific , Europe , East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia , not as well spread in Latin America but we are there and some other scattered trading partners. But our intimate knowledge of the Arab world, of the Islamic world is pretty light . Apart from Afghanistan the central Asian countries are unknown territories and we’re very thin on the ground in Africa.
For example; our knowledge of the newly independent states of the Soviet Union (even to call them that sounds outdated) is an area we should understand simply because the impact they have on Europe is important and can bounce back on us.
Africa – a fabulous continent but frightening to many. It's sad but true that if you haven't read about an African country in the last 5 years means it's probably doing ok. You will, however, have read about the disasters political and other that the news people consider more interesting and perhaps typical of Africa, in the eyes of those who have rarely or never ventured there. You might be surprised to learn some of the highest growth rates and return on investment over the last 7-8 years have been in Africa.
And the South Pacific, for most a holiday area, for some there are business opportunities and for some a minefield of volatile politics. I would like to say that the greatest reporting of information and repository of knowledge on the South Pacific both official and unofficial both government and academic is in New Zealand. I’ve been away too long to know if this is still true – but it should be. Want to know what’s going on in the South Pacific?? Call NZ !!.
This leads me to Point no. 2. Ed Hillary always ensured his networks and relationships for raising money for his Himalayan Trust were in working order, and so must we as a country.
That means key people moving around the world – trips some people love to call junkets. You don’t get a Mike Moore as head of the WTO, or me as SG of the Commonwealth or Helen Clark as head of UNDP or Sir Ken Keith onto the International Court of Justice by sitting in offices in Wellington believing the world is just waiting for the next brilliant Kiwi to step forward.
You’ve got to get out there and campaign, face to face, make the case, answer the questions, argue the issues and teleconferences are not enough.
And if anyone believes flying in the space of a week to Nairobi then to Darem Salam on to Lilongwe to Johannesburg to Windoek and back to Jo’Burg then to Abuja to be a junket over a week then let them have a go and see how they rate the fun factor.
You may be interested to know that the French Govt. has a section within their Foreign Office solely devoted to getting senior French officials into key positions in International Organisations. And they are successfull.
The world in front of us is increasingly competitive. The architecture is changing and power is shifting - I can see the G20 will supplant the G8 as a discussion group and will therefore drive the World Bank and the IMF in policy development and we, a small country at the bottom of the Pacific, will continue to be a taker, rather than a contributor.
There will be fierce behind the scenes trading with governments and between Governments and all, the private sector included, will do all they can both legally or otherwise to beat off the competition.
That’s the way of the world.
Are we truly competitive at home ? We should be, but I’m not sure we are.
Here I use another Hillary example to explain ; (3) would Peter Hillary have used the same equipment as his father to climb Everest, or would anyone climbing Everest today do so without the best supporting equipment and extras they could afford?
Of course, the answer is obvious - you would use what is best today for today. That is something we still grapple with here. The reluctance to shuck off that which is obsolete in favour of a more efficient model. It applies to the Public Service and the private sector and watching John Hood in his struggle at Oxford University , also the academic Community, both here and abroad.
Change can be painful and people resist it everywhere. Those who’ve read that little booklet “Who moved my Cheese” will know what I mean. Change might not always come up with the right solution but we still have to face up to important issues, like it or not.
Accepting constant change is less likely to give you ulcers or a migraine than rigidly gripping the sides of that comfortable armchair that you've had for years even though the springs have gone and it gives you a sore back.
It’s not only the hardware on the structure but also the people. Have we got the right people to reach out and engage with the rest of the world?
This is where I have a little more confidence.
When I see the range of races and ethnic groups pouring out of our schools and tertiary institutions late afternoon I know we’ll be able to hold our own in the next few decades or more anywhere in the Pacific or East and South Asia.
I know there were many grumbles about our immigration policies through the 90’s for which I was partly responsible. There was a feeling we were watering down our Anglo Saxon or European characteristics and creating an unrecognisable New Zealand, the past I was been told was lost forever.
Well we could never maintain forever that illusionary English county, that Rupert Brooke mirage, many thought we were or should be. We are in the South Pacific, we're in Polynesia bordering Micronesia and Melanesia, living a few hours from the rim of Asia , the area we’ll be depending on for decades ahead.
For our first 150 years of our modern history we benefitted immensely from those a generation or more back who, by their ethnicity and family linkages, moved easily around the European and North American capitals ensuring we secured markets and got a slice of the action even if it was a modest slice.
Well, now we have many 1000’s of NZ-raised and educated young people who also feel completely at home whether in the most populated parts of Japan, Korea, Northern China, and south to Indonesia , west to India or East to Latin America. They will go anywhere on the planet to sell and market that which we have. For them it will be easier and very natural because they will feel half at home in any one of those locations.
Only last week I was a member of a panel trying to choose 3 out 10 graduate students to receive Rutherford Foundation Scholarships to do Doctorates at Cambridge in England. There were 20 original applicants. They are all dyanamic young New Zealanders and in their ranks one born in South Asia and another born in Arab North Africa.
That is NZ today and tomorrow.
Then , I think (pt 4) is, Hillary the compassionate man:
Ed left a very indelible mark on all of us, not just for his physical successes, but for the time he put into helping the people of Nepal. And in the best possible New Zealand tradition – working with others for the common good.
Not a case of here’s some money, now go and build a school, or I’m going to build you a school that I would like you to have. More like , I’ve got some money, let’s work out how we can do this together, the unspoken point being if you build it, you’ll own it, nurture it and make sure it works.
Not dissimilar to the message we should give to all people seeking assistance, something we practised in the pacific, we won't give you fish to prevent your hunger but we will give you a fishing rod. Not that we can teach Island people much about fishing.
Sir Edmund's compassionate commitment to the people of Nepal did not, I gather, get contaminated by the national politics of that country which has gone through enormous turmoil in recent years. The influence or actions of the Nepalese Royal Family or the Maoists did not deflect Sir Ed from his primary purpose to see more kids educated and have health care reasonably available. I know there has been much debate in this country about our Aid programme, its governance and lines of ministerial accountability. Whilst I don’t wish to get into the broader debate about our foreign aid programme, or ODA ,as it is known, I do agree there is a primary responsibility to the Pacific.
In the foreseeable future our Pacific neighbours are not likely to be feeling, let alone getting, great economic growth, but many of them will, s they have in the past, look towards New Zealand , Australia and the US, as the places to aspire to migrate to and live in order to better their lives. They would probably prefer to stay home and retain the language, culture and tradition but are often left with little choice.
Nelson Mandela said it with the words “If your neighbour is in trouble so are you !!”
That tells me we have or we should have a specific interest in the quality and standards of education in all these Pacific Islands who have migration traditions towards New Zealand. As a minister back in the 90s it came to me, almost a blinding moment, that the young people of Niue Island were getting a rather poor 1950s New Zealand education, yet all of them had New Zealand citizenship and were likely to come and live here. That was a real problem in the making. We proposed many policy changes and I believe now their education standards have increased so those late teen migrants to Auckland are not carrying a 2nd rate education certificate.
Obviously, people have a greater future here and at home if their education levels are commensurate with our own.
However, the issue of greatest significance we will have to address in the Pacific is global warming and very specifically the impact of rising sea levels on two specific island groups. They are Kiribati and Tuvalu, and neither of them is much more than 2m above sea level on a good day.
I’ve been to both countries, Kiribati with its 112,000 people and Tuvalu with 12,000. It is rather scary to stand there in either country during very high tide and see and feel sea water up to your ankles on the floor of the houses. Keep in mind, these tiny states contribute next to nothing to global warming but they face paying the first and highest price ie quite literally and physically losing their countries to global warming. There is nothing they can do about this, absolutely nothing.
Both, remember, are sovereign states; we do not have a responsibility for their future nor a legal reason to do something for them.
But they are our neighbours, fellow human beings, with families that need feeding. Already, we willingly take some into New Zealand courtesy of a work migrant scheme but it doesn’t come near addressing the bigger issue.
One of the reasons I got involved in the Civil war on the Island of Bougainville was that I wasn't prepared to accept this was only Papua New Guinea's problem, therefore handsoff. People were dying , the warfare had lasted 10 years, they were our neighbours therefore let's help now. Let's not be scared to change a policy even if it does offend someone.
Disappearing islands become an imme
iate issue and there will be those who say let the UN do something. I say they are our neighbours and let's see what we can do now to help. Playing pass the parcel won't work. I am certain Ed Hillary would have come to that sort of conclusion.
This is also where we run head long into globalisation – and everyone;s determination to maximise the positives for themselves while minimising the negatives. In the developed world, we all want the ability to move money around from country to country at will, use a credit card wherever we land, and sell our goods all round the world. We might want to do that, we might feel it's a right but I can tell you most people don't have those needs. It's the well educated and affluent who move because others want them. If, as in the majority of cases, people can not move, then often the factory moves to the people, just look at your phone, TV or Microwave to see where it is made.
But the Pacific Islands are not about to suffer an influx of factory building or entrepreneurs to benefit from cheaper labour and there are only so many hand-woven or carved artefacts needed for the tourism market.
We would not of course deny the entry of a prospective All Black from Samoa but we're not usually quite so keen on all his family members coming here too. We like to cherry pick the world around us as do other wealthy countries.
So, going back to my starting point, if you believe in global warming, believe that rising sea levels are visible and real, let's get real on what to do about Kiribati and Tuvalu. Action now.
Let's get a bunch of bright people together, with representatives from the Islands, from Australia, the UK and New Zealand and address the urgent problems of these Pacific low lying islands.. Let’s keep ahead of the curve and avoid the panic of what to do when those people are standing in water all the time. The Aid programme will not have much value when it's under water.
The underlying theme should run from compassion to common sense in the true Ed Hillary tradition.
In Hillary’s own words:
“We should not expect people to be continuously grateful for what is being done for them ...... Gratitude has something of inequality about it. Goodwill is an active and growing idea that a proud man need not feel ashamed to entertain”.
Something on Education :
My good friend the Nobel Economics Laureate, Amartya Sen, made a profound statement when he said “If you want to stop poverty – build a school !” and all of you here know that that was just what Ed Hillary had thought and done for many decades in relation to Nepal's underprivileged.
Education is not just about diminishing poverty - it's about widening and deepening opportunities for all who partake, it's strengthening countries' intellectual foundations and enhancing economic growth. No country will keep up in the 21st century with a diminishing commitment to education.
But there's another element of education I wish to address and that is in the area of constituency building. Simply :
Selling education opportunities in New Zealand to foreign students.
This is an incredibly successful industry in the UK the USA Spain and France, just to name the major players. Not only is there a flow of education to those needing it and capital to those providing it, there's a third and somewhat intangible benefit. When a young person goes to say, the United States for tertiary or post graduate education, they get the chance not only to study and succeed but to really get to know that society around them. They live and study among citizens of their host country as well as other foreign students, they make lasting friendships, they take part in sports, they absorb local culture, and they gain a genuine understanding of that country and more often than not, a longstanding and sometimes lifetime affection for it.
I still remember a time when nearly half the Malaysian Cabinet were New Zealand graduates under the Colombo Plan. That was a great benefit to our diplomatic relations. Now I’m told Australia has more than 10,000 students from Indonesia a plus for their future. So times are a changing and we have to run fast just to keep up let alone get ahead.
Yes there are economic benefits for New Zealand, and a chance for Kiwis too to meet many young people from other countries.
Let’s look at what we do now.
I got a reasonable amount of material from Rob Stephens the CEO of Education New Zealand and I can not but help echo much of the substance and the aspirations. However, in many areas we are being bested by Australia so one hopes we can close that gap.
But the raw figures - $2.3B of annual earnings
Number 5 in overall foreign earnings
But Number 2 after Tourism in the non-commodity sector.
Overall value of receipts as a % of GDP higher than those with which we compare with as with the % of export receipts.
But where we fall behind badly is in the tertiary sector where on all counts we slip to being 40% below Australia on a per capita basis , something we should actively work to reverse.
I’m not sure where all our tertiary institutions rate globally but we do know that the Cambridge’s, Stamford’s, Yale’s, Harvard’s Oxford's and the Sorbonne's never have to market themselves. We do, and I commend those who get out there to sell and sell hard. But we have to lift to a whole new level which means more work here in our education institutions to ensure we are growing more rapidly those numbers of foreign students.
So coming back to my earlier point, New Zealand's place in the world - if we are looking at the challenges that New Zealand faces in the next twenty years we must put more profound effort into building that foreign constituency, a constituency that will think well of us, a constituency that will build bridges through our education system, a constituency that can lean our way in uncertain times and particularly in the light of the current statistics, do more for our economic statistics and well being.
And of course a constituency that educates many kiwis, especially those who don't travel, as to why the rest of the world is, what it is.
Building the New Zealand brand in a very competitive world will require money, effort and commitment, and we will always have Australia over our shoulder trying to outshine and outsell us. We mustn't make that easy for them!
I hasten to add here this is not about today but more to suggest this area is worthy of a rethink on a 5-10 year strategy.
Let's see it as an investment in our uncertain future. An investment that's no different to investment in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing or Tourism. Then we go out and do it better than anyone else as we have in those sectors I have just mentioned.
In the tradition of Ed Hillary we have to take the world the way it is and not the way we expect or want it to be.
We have to work assiduously at networks, yes through diplomacy , but also through professional groups, non-governmental organisations ,cultural and sporting ties, and all of that with the extra burden of being small and a long way from many target markets.
Grappling and accepting the need for change. To be accepted not feared or it becomes even more painful.
And of course the compassionate side, keep ahead of the problems, think about our neighbours who right now have no where near the level of certainty that we do here in NZ