Key Points:

Beyond league, netball and the Bledisloe Cup, it has been a busy few months across the Tasman for officials from Australia and New Zealand.

Largely unremarked, they have been tightening the web that in the past three decades has steadily brought the two nations so close together that hardly anyone notices any more.

Last month trade negotiators linked the transtasman Closer Economic Relations agreement to the booming economies of Southeast Asia and, in Melbourne, celebrated the 25th anniversary of CER itself, marked by the conclusion of several more steps towards a single economic market.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd popped into Auckland to reciprocate Helen Clark's visits to his country in February and April. Privacy Commissioner Marie Schroff and Australian counterpart Karen Curtis deepened an existing agreement between the two watchdogs and NZ Film Commission chief executive Ruth Harley was packing her bags to become head of the new Screen Australia, a new film agency formed from the merger of the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia and Film Finance Corporation.

So deep have the ties between the two countries become that visits by the respective leaders rarely draw comment.

But is has not been smooth sailing. Not so long ago Australia warned New Zealand that relations were reaching a fulcrum that could tip either way _ moving closer, or a slide that could see New Zealand becoming increasingly irrelevant to it larger neighbour.

The low points are well known: social welfare (now largely solved), Anzus and divergent defence and strategic perspectives, former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating's dummy-spit on open skies and New Zealand "bludging", the collapse of Ansett under Air New Zealand ownership.

But the world has moved on.

While Wellington will never be able to relax in its efforts to keep its head above Canberra's much broader horizon, events in the near Pacific, Australia's fears for the "arc of instability" to its north, terrorism and transnational crime, climate change and other environmental concerns have made New Zealand more important to Australia.

And the two nations are locked together by personal and family ties: 450,000 Kiwis live in Australia, and 63,000 Aussies in New Zealand, with full rights of travel, residence and work in each other's country.

Kiwis permeate league in Australia, Kiwi horses from Phar Lap on have been key players in Australian racing, transtasman tests in major codes have become part of both our cultures.

Film, television, theatre and music are fuelled by a crossflow of talent. Beyond claims of ownership for New Zealand-born Russell Crowe or Australian-born Keisha Castle-Hughes are a rash of household names common to both countries. Art directors Roger Ford and Kerrie Brown, along with cinematographer Donald McAlpine _ all Australians _ were nominated for their work in Kiwi director Andrew Adamson's Chronicles of Narnia; likewise Australian soundman Gethin Creagh for Lord of the Rings.

The two defence forces work closely together through command and operational exchanges, policy and planning groups, exercises, and joint operations in such crises as East Timor and the Solomons.

Wellington has signed key science agreements with federal and state governments, helping to widen co-operation in emerging technologies such as biotechnology. Universities benefit from a crossflow of academics and students.

Australian banks dominate the New Zealand banking sector, major companies have large holdings in each other's markets.

New moves are planned to finally free all trade in services and further easing of transtasman taxation is being negotiated.

We may not be superglued, but some pretty serious solvent would be needed to tear us apart.

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NGATI OZ: TRIBAL SUCCESS

Maori have flocked to Australia in pursuit of a better life _ about 25 per cent of New Zealanders living in Australia are Maori.

That compares with the 17 per cent Maori population living here. But less than a quarter think they will stay away forever.

A major research project by Te Puni Kokiri policy manager Paul Hamer has lifted the veil on the experience of the more than 100,000 Maori who've flown across the ditch, many of whom reported feeling liberated by the move.

Hamer spent 2006 as a visiting fellow at Griffith University in Brisbane and surveyed more than 1200 Maori.

Many reported the Australian environment was more conducive to success and felt free of some "negative encumbrances" they experienced in New Zealand. They felt more motivated to get ahead, more need to connect with their Maori heritage and placed less importance on iwi politics. "In common with many cultures, they are sensitive to feelings of jealousy and division between those who remain at home and those who move overseas," Hamer reported.

"Many Maori in Australia contend that it is simply easier or more acceptable to be successful in Australia in general. [They] feel that they can be themselves without the fear of negative reactions they might have received in New Zealand."

"While it cannot be demonstrated conclusively that Maori have more success in Australia than they do in New Zealand, it is fairly clear that most believe this to be the case. This is allied to the way Maori in Australia see themselves as much more motivated to get ahead than Maori in New Zealand."

But on the downside, Maori in Australia are said to be imprisoned in similar proportion to Maori in New Zealand. A Maori Corrections official suggested: "They come with a dream to get rich and when it's not realised, they turn to crime."

Maori certainly live in some lower socio-economic areas with serious crime rates, including several "Jake the Muss" suburbs in Brisbane and Sydney, Hamer reported.

Employment

* Strong Maori participation in entertainment, shearing, construction, security, mining, clerical work, machine operators and pub bouncers.

* Maori enjoy a reputation for hard work and feel treated as equals, with few reporting "class feelings" associated with their job or position.

Reasons for moving

* To get work or better jobs or a new start in life.
* Better weather.
* To join whanau.
* Negative experiences in NZ and perceived prejudice.

Political participation

* Most cannot vote due to low take-up of Australian citizenship.
* Many continue to look to NZ Government or iwi for funding and services.

Retention of culture

* Maori cultural performances play an important role in promoting New Zealand.
* An Australian fascination with Maori culture was reported.
* Challenges in holding tangihanga in the absence of marae.
* Concern at loss of traditional knowledge.