The party’s stand on principle does nothing for bilateral relationships

It's time that we grew up as a nation when it comes to diplomatic courtesy. It's time the Greens revoked their "unofficial ban" on visiting political leaders addressing the New Zealand Parliament.

Some of the world's most powerful leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel and China's Xi Jinping are headed our way later this month after they've been to the G20 Summit in Brisbane.

Having political leaders of such calibre addressing our Parliament while it is sitting is not going to subvert our democracy. But the Greens' overblown and juvenile stance that only New Zealand politicians should be allowed to address a sitting session makes us look absurdly pretentious in comparison to our transtasman neighbour.

We can chuff against Australia's overwhelming confidence in the way it projects itself as a "middle power". Successive Australian Governments have more capital to play with and are a good deal more adept than us in making sure they continue to bank further coin even when there are ripples within bilateral relationships.


In a few weeks, three of the world's most powerful people will be the latest foreign leaders to address the Australian Parliament in what will be memorable occasions for that country's politicians.

At least one of those leaders -- Chinese President Xi -- will come to New Zealand for a similar State visit. But those long-standing objections by the Greens have (so far) robbed New Zealand of the opportunity to honour visiting leaders in a way that (at least in Australia) has seen them rise to the occasion with excellent speeches that canvas the importance of the bilateral relationship and strengthen mutual bonds.

Prime Minister John Key has wanted to invoke that tradition here.

But the only occasion (to date) in which a foreign leader -- Australia's former PM Julia Gillard -- has addressed our Parliament it had to be outside formal sitting hours.

This was because Greens co-leader Russel Norman -- an Australian himself -- reckoned having a foreign leader in the House could undermine the democratic sovereignty of Parliament.

It's tempting to observe that Parliament does a good job of undermining itself from time to time with bouts of raucous behaviour.

But the Greens' rationale for blocking Gillard was that while they had nothing personal against her, they didn't want to set a precedent for "unpleasant people" like George Bush.

Said Norman: "No head of government or head of state has addressed a session of Parliament and that's a principle that we're quite keen to keep." But it was read as an insult in his home country.


In fact Bush was heckled by two Senators when he spoke to the Australian Parliament. They were ejected. He simply shrugged off the interjections -- "I love free speech".

There's also still sensitivities over what happened when Xi last visited Parliament as China's vice-president in 2010. A member of the Chinese security team tore a Tibetan flag out of Norman's hands as he tried to mount a protest.

But Key has previously named German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a leader he would want to have address the Parliament (along with US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron if they also happened to visit NZ).

Her role as a singular European leader of a powerful country that had played a huge role in Europe's regeneration after the Global Financial Crisis makes her an ideal candidate to address Parliament. Problem is it could be diplomatically difficult to extend such an invitation to one leader and not the other.

The trio who will speak to the Australian Parliament -- President Xi, Indian President Narendra Modi and Cameron -- are also bracketing their attendance at the G20 Summit with formal State visits.

There's a great deal on the table for Abbott. The Australian PM wants Xi's visit marked with the signing of a free trade deal with China. If Australia does finally manage to bag its own free trade deal, it will have competitive ramifications for this country's exporters. New Zealand's first-mover advantage for agricultural exports will be eroded but there is also the possibility that Australia might secure some new concessions that we can look to parallel over time.

The horse-trading as the final negotiations on the agreement come down to the wire has been intense. I hope that Norman and co can get over themselves sufficiently to realise that Merkel -- and for that matter Xi -- are not out to subvert our democracy.

It's time that we grew up as a nation when it comes to diplomatic courtesy.