Fran O'Sullivan: Working with Tasman mates

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison has political experience on this side of the Tasman too. Photo / AP
Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison has political experience on this side of the Tasman too. Photo / AP

New Zealand is in a sweet spot when it comes to things transtasman.

And what better way to cement the growing closeness than the announcement of the world's first ever bilateral infrastructure pipeline?

Taken at first blush, this announcement in Sydney yesterday seems a rather anodyne expression of transtasman closeness.

But both Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Bill English believe the pipeline - whose website is said to be loosely based on Airbnb's - will make it easier to attract international investment to underpin the two countries' rapidly growing infrastructure needs.

As a symbol of increasing transtasman collaboration, the infrastructure pipeline makes sense, as the pair underlined to the 11th Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum meeting in Sydney, which brought together more than 200 senior representatives from government, business and the wider community from the two countries.

Both countries are in the enviable position of posting growth. Not simply population growth, but also economic growth. This growth must be supported by new infrastructure (some $100 billion of projects and upgrades are slated for NZ alone in the next 10 years).

But on a global scale, Australasian projects are relatively small.

It is easier to attract major international investment and more infrastructure players to boost competition in procurement if the projects on offer are bundled on one platform.

There's an important subtext to ANZIP (Australia New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline), which is effectively an online portal for information on Australian and New Zealand-based infrastructure projects from across central government, local government and the private sector.

English suggested the infrastructure initiative will make Australia and New Zealand "greater than the sum of the parts".

"More competition is better from a procurement point of view," he stressed.

It would help to reduce risk around investing in major projects by providing as much certainty as reasonably possible about the pipeline of infrastructure projects, and also persuade governments to take a longer term view.

Morrison earned his stripes back in the late 1990s, when he ran the NZ Office of Tourism and Sport, reporting to this country's Tourism Minister of the day, Murray McCully.

The pair were close, with Australia's The Monthly describing Morrison as McCully's "political policeman" and the Herald dubbing him McCully's "hard man". Morrison returned to Australia after a political scandal involving golden handshakes led to McCully's resignation.

They have retained their friendship, and Morrison is said to jest that McCully taught him the "dark arts of politics".

Pertinently, he is one of the architects of the "Pure New Zealand" slogan and also Australia's tourism slogan, "Where the bloody hell are you?"

The forum itself was held under Chatham House rules.

But in a public session, Morrison underlined the strength of the political leadership of the New Zealand economy under English's reign, noting how this country was leading the way in policies such as social services reform and how both countries were achieving better engagement in hard areas like border protection.

Business was also on the front foot at the Sydney forum.

The private sector was urged to propose ideas and encouraged to come up with work programmes which could then be fed into the government processes for action.

The "economic ministers" also held a bilateral meeting, with infrastructure, science and innovation initiatives and border issues featuring high on their agenda.

The ministers included Finance Minister English and his counterpart Morrison; the two trade ministers, Todd McClay (NZ) and Steven Ciobo (Australia); Commerce Minister Paul Goldsmith (NZ); Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce (NZ); Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy (NZ); Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke (Australia); Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sidonis (Australia); Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor (Australia); and Customs Minister Nicky Wagner (NZ).

This was the final forum for Australian co-chairman Rod McGeoch, whose place has been taken by Carnival Australia executive chairman Ann Sherry, former CEO of Westpac NZ.

McGeoch said the overall goal was to achieve better understanding of opportunities, to reach a consensus in five sector groups over work programmes and to strengthen the relationship. The five key sectors considered to be drivers of new economic value are: tourism, infrastructure, health technology, innovation and agri-business.

Forum knowledge partner McKinsey & Co assisted in developing options which have been elaborated within an overall framework of "mega trends" addressing both economies. These trends include greater global interconnection, industrialisation and urbanisation, an ageing world and disruptive technologies.

NZ forum co-chair Adrian Littlewood, the CEO of Auckland Airport, said:

"The relationship is strong but the scale of the opportunity and the disruptive forces ahead means that we must collaborate and innovate to take the relationship forward."

Economically, Australia is currently in a bit of a funk. But New South Wales is riding high, though growth has to spread around the rest of the economy as moves are taken to diversify from a reliance on energy and minerals.

There was a sense that confidence is creeping back into the economy.

Australia was out to set itself up for 25 years of growth, concentrating more on strengthening its resilience as an economy. But also by restoring balance, by doing the hard work on every budget and repaying debt.

A forum communique said that collaboration on infrastructure, tourism, health technologies and innovation, along with addressing non-tariff barriers for agri-business in third markets, will be among the key drivers of the CER vision in coming years.

"The future of the relationship lies more in what we can achieve together in relation to global markets rather than our increasingly integrated, but still small, transtasman economy," said Littlewood.

"CER has already created the basis for a single economic market," he said.

"While some work remains to be done to address remaining barriers, bigger opportunities for us both lie further afield if we can pool our combined strengths and collaborate actively where it makes sense to do so."

Recommendations from the Leadership Forum are now being prepared in a letter to the two Prime Ministers.

Project pipeline

ANZIP is expected to provide investors with greater visibility and business certainty on upcoming investment opportunities across Australasia. As well as helping New Zealand businesses expand into the Australian market, ANZIP could also help attract international investors who could in turn introduce innovative techniques to New Zealand's infrastructure market.

ANZIP contains approximately 25 New Zealand projects from government agencies, local authorities, State-owned enterprises and publicly-listed companies.

www.infrastructurepipeline.org

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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