The Trans-Tasman World: Towards a Closer Understanding: Brian Lynch Reports on the Launch of the New Zealand Australia Research Centre at the University of Canterbury on 10 October 2008

Article excerpt

On 10 October 2008 an all-day seminar was held at the Art Gallery, Christchurch, to formally launch the University of Canterbury New Zealand Australia Research Centre. Around 100 attended. It was a collaborative effort between the university and the NZIIA National Office. The main purpose was to help identify themes and topics in the bilateral New Zealand-Australia relationship that could form part of the new centre's research programme. It was also an occasion to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Closer Economic Relations agreement. Hon Russell Marshall, NZIIA President, chaired the morning session and the afternoon session was in the care of Dr Robin Mann, Chancellor of the University of Canterbury.

Hon Lianne Dalziel, Minister of Commerce, gave the first of two keynote addresses. She traced the evolution of the trans-Tasman economic regulatory framework from NAFTA to CER, noting how the two economies had become progressively more closely and deeply integrated. CER is now internationally recognised as the best practical, working example of a comprehensive, high quality trade agreement. The minister identified several areas in the context of a developing single economic market that could be of potential interest to the research centre.

The well-known and respected political journalist Colin James titled his address 'Top of mind and proximate'. He spoke about the paradox that, towards each other, the two countries often displayed qualities that were both 'foreign and family'; there was an inherent tension that could infuse as well as confuse the bilateral ties. The relationship was constantly evolving and held 'rich pickings' for researchers. (The text of James's remarks is to be found elsewhere in this issue.)

More targeted contributions to the research centre's emerging agenda come from two five-member panels. The morning panel, chaired by Dr Rod Carr, focused on the elements of 'soft power': namely, the arts, education, cultural exchanges and people movement. The University of Waikato's Professor Richard Bedford addressed his specialist field of population shifts, noting research opportunities in areas such as aging workforces, drought-affected communities, and South Pacific migration to the two countries. Merryn Dunmill, the head of Arts Hub Aotearoa at Canterbury, saw arts in society as a neglected research topic.


Diverse impacts

Economist Dr Brian Easton covered trans-Tasman labour migration, and drew attention to the diverse impacts on points of origin and destination. Jenny Harper, the Director of the Art Gallery, highlighted excellent linkages between galleries across the Tasman; cultural biography and discourses on arts and drama were research possibilities. Professor Melanie Nolan, head of National Biography, Australian National University, spoke about the qualities that make up national identity ('what does it mean to be an Australian/ New Zealander'?) and issues of 'indigeneity'.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Murdoch moderated the afternoon panel. Associate Professor John Henderson, University of Canterbury, explained differences in security perceptions towards neighbouring regions and argued that New Zealand needed to retain the freedom to use its particular assets and means of influence. Professor Jeremy Finn, also from the University of Canterbury, focused on historic legal connections and cross-fertilisation between the two sets of case law. Andrew Holden, editor of the Christchurch Press, observed that the 'business case' for newspapers was under threat from new communications technology and a difficult economic environment. Not for profit agencies might perforce have to take on a bigger role in sustaining the profession of journalism. Peter Townsend, the chief executive of the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, noted difficulties that New Zealand exporters often faced in establishing a presence in the Australian market. …