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Herald on Sunday editorial: How will Abbott affect NZ

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Tony Abbott. Photo / Getty Images
Tony Abbott. Photo / Getty Images

When Australia changes horses, New Zealand needs to take stock. What do Tony Abbott and his likely ministers know of this country? Where do New Zealand and the near Pacific rank in their outlook on the world? What is their view of closer economic relations and, more urgently, the rights of New Zealanders in Australia who have taken advantage of it?

Naturally, none of those questions figured in the campaign across the Tasman, not even the last. When Abbott was asked at a press conference about the plight of New Zealand migrants denied benefits that their taxes help pay for, he ducked the question, praising the character of Kiwis and reminding us he is married to a New Zealander.

Well, that is something. The value of family ties cannot be overstated. But the chemistry between Prime Ministers will count for more. Too often it has been antagonistic. Muldoon and Fraser, Hawke and Lange were barely on speaking terms. Keating was not much better, breaking an air deregulation agreement with the Bolger Government.

Since then the relationship has greatly improved. Helen Clark and John Howard got along well, as did John Key with Julia Gillard. It is curious that leaders from the same side of the political fence have found it harder to form a good relationship across the Tasman. Key and Abbott need to break the pattern.

But it might be too much to expect they can quickly resolve the expatriate conundrum. Even Gillard, well disposed as she was to this country, held to the policy introduced by the Howard Government that denies a range of benefits to New Zealanders who have moved to Australia since 2001.

Abbott's lavish promise on parental leave may be another benefit denied them.

Australia says New Zealanders already have easier access to that country than any other migrants and if they want all the rights of citizenship they can apply for it on the same criteria as all others. New Zealand argues this is not in the spirit of CER, under which Australian permanent residents here are accorded all the rights of citizenship.

But there are other subjects on the agenda when Key catches up with his new Australian counterpart. The issue of "boat people" was the subject of an agreement with Gillard to take some of those seeking asylum in Australia. But the deal was blown out of the water, so to speak, when the reinstated Rudd said they all would be sent to Papua New Guinea.

Abbott's policy, to somehow "turn back the boats" is undeveloped. The issue was neutralised for the campaign but it will return.

So will climate change, despite Abbott's scepticism on the issue. The election meant no Australian Prime Minister attended the Pacific Forum meeting in the Marshall Islands last week, where the risk of rising sea-levels is of real concern. Australia and New Zealand need to share leadership on this and other regional needs.

Another is Fiji. We and Australian have maintained a united front of disapproval for the regime and need to keep in step to encourage a restoration of constitutional rule.

Our interests are united by the Anzac spirit. The defence policies of the two countries have diverged since New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory 26 years ago but without Anzus we have been more reliant on Australia.

Our banks and many of our companies are Australian-owned, our currencies tend to move in tandem, we can live and work easily on either side of the Tasman. What happens in Canberra matters here.

- Herald on Sunday

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