Australia and New Zealand set aside rivalries to host an outstanding Fifa Women’s World Cup. So why can’t we mirror that performance on the economic field, and at the very least remove hard barriers to the movement of people and goods across the Tasman, and boost our combined performance?
Resting on each other’s laurels is all well and good when it comes to hosting major world sports endeavours which are beyond our individual capacities. But in this more complex economic world, where power dynamics rather than the rules of global trade are shaping futures, it makes sense to move now to raise our combined heft and strip out inefficiencies.
We are at least friends after all, aren’t we?
These questions have been in front of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Australian leader Anthony Albanese long before the agenda was set for their meeting in Wellington next week for the annual transtasman prime ministers’ talkfest. Diplomats on both sides have been testing various assumptions and solutions to move past the ennui which has set in when it comes to making bold steps on the joint economic front.
Now, we finally get to see what’s next.
The business sector has high expectations that the two prime ministers will rise to the occasion and announce a joint goal to build on the 40-year-old Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement and deliver in key areas.
And that the glacial speed that has characterised movement on the developing Australasian single economic market will finally shift up a gear. After all, one of its authors, the late Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen, did say in March 2004 that it should be able to be completed in five years.
Hipkins’ press statement gave nothing away – just an anodyne reference that the visit provides an opportunity to “set an ambition for where New Zealand and Australia want to go next”.
But in an address over dinner at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF) on Wednesday evening, he indicated that the seamless movement of people and goods across the Tasman was a step the New Zealand Government was championing.
There also needed to be active support for both countries to transition to green economies and achieve net-zero targets. Other areas where CER could develop next included co-operation by the CER nations with partners in the Pacific and more collaboration between Māori, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and businesses.
The final aspect was to build the single economic market in a way that promoted and supported digital, technical and scientific innovation.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the ground-breaking CER deal between our two countries, the 50th anniversary of the transtasman travel arrangement and the 80th anniversary of diplomatic representation.
The ANZLF also cited a business survey which highlighted a pressing need for Australia and New Zealand to modernise CER and called on both governments to: deliver an open and simplified border, ensuring the smooth flow of goods and people between the two countries; align shared objectives to achieve net zero emissions; and integrate the digital economy into CER to future-proof a more seamless transtasman regulatory environment.
The forum leaders and policy groups also wanted to explore more effective partnerships with the Pacific region.
So there is alignment.
None of this was lost on Grant Robertson, who spoke to the ANZLF forum.
Wearing his Sports Minister hat, he teased out the lessons that could be learned from the joint hosting of the Fifa Women’s World Cup – nearly 2 billion people would watch this on TV – describing it as “just the most extraordinary possible opportunity for both New Zealand and Australia”.
With his Finance Minister hat firmly back on, he talked up the initial “two plus two” meeting of the transtasman finance and climate ministers last month: Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Robertson, James Shaw (New Zealand’s Climate Minister) and Chris Bowen, who holds the Climate Change and Energy portfolio in Australia.
He cited the new pathway to Australian citizenship as an example of what can be achieved by joint government co-operation and said if the CER was being signed today, it would have an environmental climate protocol attached and digital and indigenous chapters.
All done and dusted then? One would hope so.
The “two plus two” ministers’ meeting is obviously a step along the way to institutionalising the next steps in modernising the transtasman economic arrangements.
In the Sir John Key/Sir Bill English years, a joint Cabinet meeting was held. An annual joint Cabinet meeting of key ministers could be a further step.