EC SAFIRE Scenarios for Global Regions: Australia and New Zealand

EC SAFIRE Scenarios for Global Regions: Australia and New Zealand

The latest in our series based on SAFIRE, a proposed system using foresight to develop policy for Research and Innovation relationships for the EU, is a review of Australia and New Zealand, with some references to the rest of Oceania.

The original Report is available via the link here, Four global scenarios provide the structure of a “gameboard”. These were then expanded into scenarios of each of the 10 Regions – the scenario reports for each Region can be found within Chapter 3 of the report.  At a workshop, Regional experts then examined how their Region might journey through the scenarios over time.

The Report was published in autumn 2021, but we continue to monitor developments and trends in each of the ten Regions.  So these blogs, rather than simply recycling the content of the Report, look at the trends that might influence how each Region might move across the scenario “gameboard” over the next 20 years.

Introducing Australia and New Zealand

Both Australia and New Zealand have positive, self-confident views of themselves. They have important relationships with China and ASEAN countries but continue to maintain strong links to the Anglo-Saxon world, with a position in the “Five Eyes” signals intelligence network, and strong sporting and cultural ties to the UK.

People in both countries like to think of themselves as self-reliant, independent and open-minded, but there is also a strong streak of Puritan populism running through society, especially outside the major cities.  They regard themselves as part of the wider Australasian community, and New Zealand in particular has close links with the Pacific Islands. Both countries’ populations are well-educated and politically engaged. Attitudes to the indigenous populations and LGBTQ+ communities are generally becoming more liberal, though pockets of prejudice remain, especially in rural Australia.

Although similar in many respects, there are major differences between  Australia and New Zealand, notably in terms of size (population, GDP) and natural resources. These differences do lead to different drivers of change and socio-political positioning.  Tourism is an important economic sector in both. Attitudes to the (different) indigenous populations are becoming less prejudiced, with NZ more actively promoting its Maori heritage.


Australia’s economic dependence on coal and iron mining and agriculture shapes its politics, and its relationships with other countries, China in particular.  Financial services are on an upward trend, but despite various initiatives the country is yet to make a significant mark in IT.

There is a strong national identity which verges on the insular and anti-immigrant. Waves of immigration from South-East Asia, from Vietnamese “boat-people” days onwards, have been resisted as much as possible, with harsh processing centres in offshore islands.

New Zealand

New Zealand has a broader range of agricultural and bio-technology products with a higher value-added, but struggles to find investment partners around the world. Alliances with ASEAN countries are seen as the best way forward. NZ is more welcoming of immigrants, but does expect a high degree of conformity with local culture

What might drive change? What are the recent forces acting on the countries?

Politics and Relationships

China is the dominant factor in Australia’s geo-political environment. Relations have deteriorated recently. China introduced tariffs of 220% on wine; banned imports of lobster (it had previously taken 96% of lobster exports); put tariffs on barley, beef and coal. In 2018, Australia banned Huawei from its 5G mobile infrastructure rollout. More recently, Australia has been vocal about human rights issues in China, with a political boycott of the Winter Olympics.

Concern over Chinese naval advances, led Australia to ditch its deal with France for conventional submarines in favour of nuclear powered (not nuclear armed) ones in a new arrangement with the US and UK – AUKUS. Although not operational for some years yet, these boats will be able to stay submerged longer, and be less easily detected. The AUKUS deal extends to other areas such as cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies, This is an extension of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing network that also includes Canada and New Zealand..

Nonetheless, Australia’s economic dependency on China means it has a difficult line to tread.

New Zealand is less likely to join AUKUS because of its aversion to nuclear technology. Instead it is looking more to partnerships with comparable sized ASEAN countries.

Environment and Climate

Climate change is a real crisis for both countries, Australia especially. The bushfires of 2020 are just a precursor of ever-more damaging events (droughts and fires), which could extend to impacting Sydney suburbs.  Farmers are increasingly struggling and the state is now providing subsidies.

In New Zealand, increasing temperatures are impacting the glaciers which are likely to shrink to virtually nothing, and coastal flooding has increased, with several inundations in the many low-lying areas. NZ is also active in supporting low-lying Pacific Island countries when affected by extreme weather events and remains more open to immigrants (within the limits of its pandemic constraints)..


Both countries’ responses to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak were a strong “Zero-Covid” approach. Strict lockdowns were imposed (repeatedly in some areas) and international travel effectively banned. Public co-operation was strong.  This has been relatively effective on containing the number of deaths, though the path to relaxation of restrictions remains difficult. The OECD said that Australia weathered the economic downturn from Covid-19 better than most developed countries but could face a slower recovery when community transmission is higher,


The population in Australia is forecast to grow steadily from around 25 million in 2020 to nearly 30 million in 2040 and to continue rising right through the end of the century.  New Zealand’s population however, is forecast to plateau at around 6 million (up from 4 .9m today) from 2080. Compared with other developed countries, this confers a demographic dividend with a younger population.


Turning finally to the question of where the countries may move on the Scenario Board, at the Brussels workshop in November 2019, participants suggested that the countries would move from Oak (“She’ll be right”)  to Bamboo (“Scandinavia of the South”). The pressing need to respond to severe climate crisis events was taken to be the most significant driving force.

However, recent developments – the rise of Chinese regional assertiveness, reluctance to  accept climate change challenges, border controls in response to the pandemic –suggest the workshop participants may have been too optimistic and we will see less movement and instead a strengthening of Oak attitudes in Australia. New Zealand is already more open and inclusive and remains on track to the Bamboo scenario. Whether this divergence between the two causes tensions remains to be seen.


  • China’s actions are the dominant force in the region; both countries are likely to be react by trying to insulate themselves
  • Which countries will the countries align with? USA/UK? Europe? Japan? ASEAN? What will the impacts be?
  • Will tourism return to 2019 levels, and if so, when?
  • Will climate change-related disasters drive public clamour for change?
  • How will the countries and the region handle climate migration?

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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