New Zealand may be the land of the sheep, but it's Australians who are the followers.

Ever since our neighbours across the Tasman became the first country in the world to allow women the right to vote, we've been struggling to keep up.

New Zealand has soundly beaten Australia by appointing its first woman Governor-General in 2001 - years before Quentin Bryce made history here; their first woman prime minister, Jenny Shipley, took office in 1997, while we had to wait a further 14 years.

And Dame Sian Elias was appointed Chief Supreme Court Justice of New Zealand in 1999, whilst our first chief, Susan Kiefel, was only appointed in January this year.

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New Zealand has also shown superb leadership in issues concerning native rights, campaigning against nuclear testing in the South Pacific, and have some of the strongest environmental laws in the world.

They have embraced renewable energy, with targets already in place for 90 per cent of its power through alternative sources by 2025.

Back in Australia, our renewable energy debate has the same sophistication of toddlers throwing a tantrum in the middle of a Target store.

Last year, the Social Progress Index named New Zealand as the most progressive country, beating 131 other countries.

They came out on top thanks to their laws and social attitudes to health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.

As Australian squabbles over whether to legalise same-sex marriage through a highly contentious and expensive postal survey, New Zealand parliament quietly changed it laws to allow same-sex marriage in 2013 through a simple vote, after which all members sang a Maori love song.

It was a profoundly beautiful and dignified moment, two adjectives that cannot be associated with Australia's bizarre and prejudice-baiting approach to settling an issue that most other western countries have done via parliament or the courts.

What is it about New Zealand that places them so far in front of us when it comes to equality and compassion?

On paper, we share many similarities - we share the same history of colonisation and Indigenous persecution, plus our flags are freakishly similar - but we continually lack the initiative and imagination to embrace the reforms necessary to progress human rights, gender equality, environmental protections and embrace Indigenous culture and rights.

Australia collectively likes to think of itself as the sheriff in the South Pacific, but when it comes to equality and passion, New Zealand has us pegged.

We're not the leaders we think we are. Instead of stealing New Zealand's Russell Crowe or Split Enz for ourselves, perhaps we could borrow their progressive attitude to fix some of our problems.

- Daily Telegraph