No longer a 'foreign' minister

By Eugene Bingham

By EUGENE BINGHAM

Struth - an Aussie in our most exclusive club has just become a fair dinkum Kiwi.

Australian-born cabinet minister Matt Robson has finally done the decent thing and obtained New Zealand citizenship.

"I'm a product of CER [closer economic relations with Australia]," he told the Herald yesterday, proudly showing off his Certificate of Citizenship.

The 50-year-old Alliance MP and Associate Foreign Minister was born in Brisbane but emigrated to New Zealand with his parents when he was aged 14.

He was educated in Auckland, where he later worked as a teacher and a lawyer before entering Parliament in 1996.

It was only when he was appointed to the cabinet last year that he decided it was time to become a citizen.

His roles as Minister of Corrections, Courts, Disarmament and Arms Control and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs made him consider his allegiances.

"It's particularly poignant as an Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs. I've been a spokesman on foreign affairs, but it's different when you have to carry the can. Now I can say I'm no longer a 'foreign' minister.

"I always put it in the sense that I've increased the quality of political life here." He said New Zealand had sent Australia Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who became Premier of Queensland. "In a way, I guess Australians say they've returned the favour."

Mr Robson's citizenship application was approved last month and he received his certificate without fanfare. Not wanting to belittle the importance of becoming a New Zealander, he believes a more significant moment was his decision to make this country his home.

"It didn't happen straight away; it's an evolutionary thing where you feel that New Zealand is home.

"Like many New Zealanders, I headed off overseas after university and it was that period away that made me feel more than ever that New Zealand had become my home. I had a choice of New Zealand and Australia, and it was New Zealand that drew me back."

He has retained a love of Australia handed down from his parents. "I still have a strong feeling for Australian things. A lot of my family are there, and you don't forget the country of your birth."

Then there are the regular jibes from colleagues to remind Mr Robson where he was born.

"Never has my being an Australian been a secret. People pick up from my accent - I still say 'chaance' and 'daance' and 'braanch' and I'm not going to change those because it's a hell of a psychological effort."

He has heard all the jokes - yes, it is appropriate for an Australian to be in charge of NZ jails, and no, he will not use his Foreign Ministry role to telegraph the Australians any All Black secrets.

With his citizenship papers in hand, Mr Robson got the ultimate test of loyalty from the Herald: Did he cheer or cry when the Australian cricket team thrashed New Zealand again this week?

"I must admit I can shift sides depending on what side is winning. One of the advantages is that you can change sides midstream - you can laugh or cry. Unfortunately, with the sports I follow - cricket and rugby league - I would often be in grieving mode if I just supported New Zealand."

* The Electoral Act states MPs must either be NZ citizens or have been an elector before August 1975. Mr Robson qualified under the second condition.

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