Alex Malley: United we stand with Australia

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At a cultural level, the similarities between the two nations vastly out-number the differences. Photo / Getty Images
At a cultural level, the similarities between the two nations vastly out-number the differences. Photo / Getty Images

The trans-Tasman relationship between the Key and Turnbull Governments has reached a new level of mutual respect and intimacy not previously seen during the decades since the signing of the CER agreement in 1983.

This bodes well for both countries' economic, diplomatic and security future.

Over all those years there has been some fine talk from Australian leaders about the special relationship between the two countries but it's fair to say that, from a New Zealand perspective, there's been precious little action on a range of issues affecting Kiwis.

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Even when Julia Gillard addressed New Zealand's Parliament, in what was a first for the two countries, she was unable or unwilling to change policy that was causing political and diplomatic tension. She did say she wouldn't challenge the world trade decision on apples but, as seen with Kiwi eyes, that was perhaps making a virtue out of an original sin.

So, Prime Minister Turnbull's initiative to lay a pathway for some Kiwis to Australian citizenship is a significant one.

No previous prime minister - Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard et al - has actually implemented a New Zealand request for a change to Australian domestic law to accommodate its citizens living in the Lucky Country.

At a cultural level, the similarities between the two nations vastly out-number the differences. Both peoples have naturally and easily felt themselves as family, in a way that is unique in the world. Yet the familial ties have meant nought under previous Australian Governments when it came to New Zealand issues.

Which begs the question, why has Turnbull done it - what's in it for Australia?

Cutting some slack to hard-working Kiwis in Australia, while a welcome gesture, won't win Turnbull extra votes among his core constituency. But it's also hard to see this as a vote-loser, undoubtedly helped by the fact that the Shaky Isles' stocks have risen in Australian eyes in recent years.

This is due in no small part to New Zealand's political stability and economic success since the turn of the century. Even more influential on the decision is the high regard with which the Key Government, and its prime minister in particular, is held in Australia.

For this was not an announcement for Australian voters. Instead, it was a carefully calibrated decision aimed at your side of the Ditch. It tells New Zealanders that there is indeed a special relationship that spans the Tasman Sea.

This is important for both countries.

Under Key and Turnbull's leadership, the relationship between the nations is now stronger and closer than between any other country on earth.

In a new era of political and economic uncertainty, not to mention rising geographical tensions, particularly in the China Sea, it is vital Australia and New Zealand are in lock-step. Distractions such as squabbles over New Zealanders' access to social services in Australia, for instance, inhibit the efforts of people on both sides to bring the countries closer together.

By making this concession, Turnbull has removed a vexing thorn for Key's Government, allowing both teams to get on with the important work, including further regulatory and legal reform to further harmonise the rules on both sides of the Ditch.

Under Key and Turnbull's leadership, the relationship between the nations is now stronger and closer than between any other country on earth.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia.

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