Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Trans-Tasman Link: More Than the Sum of Two Parts: Michael Potts Surveys the Relationship between Australia and New Zealand and Finds It in First-Class Shape

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Trans-Tasman Link: More Than the Sum of Two Parts: Michael Potts Surveys the Relationship between Australia and New Zealand and Finds It in First-Class Shape

Article excerpt

The Australia-New Zealand relationship is perhaps the strongest between any two countries in the world. Our shared Anzac history, starting in Gallipoli but continuing in various theatres over the last 100 years, including most recently in Afghanistan, remains a special link. The relationship is not strictly an equal one--in terms of size and population. New Zealand focuses a lot more on Australia than the other way around. Assymetry is a factor also with defence and national security. But economic ties are close and the aim is to create a single economic market to enable business, consumers and investors to conduct operations across the Tasman in a seamless regulatory environment.

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Our indigenous histories are strikingly different. Australia's aborigines date back thousands of years while the Maori are a much more recent arrival. But our respective histories of European settlement run on parallel lines

For a brief period, New Zealand was a detached part of New South Wales. There was a period in the 1890s when New Zealand might have joined the nascent Australian Federation, but there is little evidence that New Zealanders ever regretted the decision not to do so. But in any case the proclamation of New Zealand as a dominion in 1907 was a sign that New Zealand would chart its own course of action.

Charting a separate course was only a relative term given that both remained firmly under a unified British Empire foreign policy until the Second World War. Indeed, there are historians who argue that it was not until the United Kingdom decided to join the European Union that Australia and New Zealand achieved psychological independence. In my view the Second World War was the turning point in our emergence as sovereign entities. In 1943, Australia established its high commission in Wellington. In 1944, Peter Fraser and John Curtin signed the Canberra Pact--our first independent treaty action.

Close relationship

It is not easy to think of an international relationship as close as that between our two countries. Even on the sporting field, where we are ostensibly rivals, we do share values of fair play and mateship. Our values and our overall way of life are very similar, although I always note that Australians here need to be alert to subtle differences, not least the Maori perspective.

Our shared Anzac history, starting in Gallipoli but continuing in various theatres over the last 100 years, including most recently in Afghanistan, remains a special link. No doubt 2015 will be a particularly special commemoration for both countries. The Australian war memorial will have a prominent place in the new National War Memorial Park in Buckle Street

The closeness starts at the prime ministerial level--certainly for close to twenty years. I would suggest that all New Zealand ministers have a personal relationship with Australian counterparts --and in many cases this is at the state level as well. Visits back and forward are a regular part of doing trans-Tasman business. New Zealand ministers are very involved in many of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) processes, which provide excellent opportunities for sharing best practice and to learn from each other's policy challenges.

New Zealand is quite different in terms of architecture compared with, say, Indonesia, the United Kingdom or United States. There we typically have formal Australia-United States ministerial consultations (AUSMIN) and an Australia-United Kingdom ministerial consultation (AUKMIN), which are difficult to make happen. New Zealand is different because each minister has such close and on-going contacts across the Tasman.

Stripped down

So the basic architecture is pretty stripped down: an annual prime minister-to-prime minister meeting plus the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum. The latter is focused on business, trade facilitation and single market issues. …

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