Byline: Mark Peart
There are few assets more prized among those working on the top-level advancement of the transTasman economic and trade relationship than Roderick (Rod) Hamilton McGeoch. This is chiefly because of his role as Australian co-chairman of the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum. While McGeoch is a prominent Sydneysider, perhaps best known for leading the successful bid for that city to host the 2000 Olympic Games, he is almost as deeply embedded in the New Zealand business scene as he is in the Australian equivalent.
McGeoch is impeccably connected in government, business and law on both sides of the ditch, which helps explain why he was asked to take over the Australian co-chairmanship of the forum from former Qantas chief executive James Strong earlier this year.
The Leadership Forum was established in 2004. It brings together prominent businesspeople, senior political and public sector figures, academics and media from both countries to discuss the transTasman relationship and to network on issues of common interest.
Of late, it has been a key player in the development of the Single Economic Market concept, which aims to break down borders to transTasman trade and investment and to expand the Closer Economic Relations agreement (CER).
In late June, McGeoch was among those attending a dinner in Sydney to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of CER. One of CER's founding fathers, former Australian deputy prime minister Doug Anthony, couldn't attend due to poor health, but he did pen a message which was published on the dinner menu.
Anthony said the enlargement of the European Community in recent years had set a powerful precedent in the movement of people between countries - both tourists and workforce. He suggested this could act as a model for expanding CER to incorporate the freer movement of people between New Zealand and Australia. Europe's economy had been revitalised and many of the "earlier dreams of greater social equality and cohesion" in Europe at peace had been achieved; the liberalisation of the movement of people and labour being central to this success.
"If a Europe with a history of conflict and distrust can move with relative ease to achieve this, then surely Australia and New Zealand can attack with confidence any problems that we may face with such a liberalisation," Anthony said.
Anthony suggested initiatives such as an ANZAC passport, a common central bank (with the European Central Bank as a model), a common currency, and a common stock exchange, total exemption from foreign investment controls for "genuine investment" from the other country - be it industrial, agricultural, services, or media; common health labelling and safety rules; a common educational syllabus; and harmonised rules for carbon trading.
This was journalistic manna from heaven - perfect fodder to discuss with McGeoch during NZ Management's interview with him at his home the next morning in a quiet but opulent part of Sydney's eastern suburbs. The weekend papers were piled up on the kitchen table for his later consideration, and at one point McGeoch's wife Deeta, a PR executive, drifted in and listened to the interview.
Once described by sharebroker ABN Amro as Australasia's most influential director, McGeoch is prominent in the New Zealand business scene as chairman of SkyCity Entertainment Group and as a director of Telecom. In Australia, he is chairman emeritus of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest law firms. He also has an impressive record in sports administration to round out his CV.
But back to CER and the leadership forum. McGeoch says the Leadership Forum's underlying role is to keep heading for uniformity and full reciprocity between New Zealand and Australia in trade and investment.
"We think, by and large, that it's unhelpful to talk about one country, or New Zealand becoming a new seventh state [of Australia]. …