Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has left after his 23 hour visit to New Zealand, jetting out of Queenstown after a morning walk with PM Bill English and their wives Lucy and Mary.

It wound up a successful day for new Prime Minister Bill English - who returns to Wellington with an invite to go kayaking on Sydney Harbour with Turnbull.

He also secured a clear signal that Turnbull's admiration for New Zealand did not end when former PM John Key stepped down.

Turnbull hosted Key for lunch in Sydney last week and Turnbull has said they are still friends, but he was also full of admiration for English's work as former Finance Minister.


Turnbull was full of praise for New Zealand's economic competitiveness, saying in a joint press conference that former Prime Minister John Key had put that down to New Zealand having less money to throw about. "But I know it was because of the efficiency of the Finance Minister [Bill English]."

There was little way of concrete gains. There was a slight softening of the rules to qualify for the 'pathway to citizenship' which will come into effect for some New Zealanders living in Australia this year. There was an agreement to cooperate more on science and innovation. There was no movement on the deportations of New Zealand-born people in Australia who had served sentences of more than one year.

But English will take Turnbull's warmth toward New Zealand as a win.

There have been times when New Zealand was almost an after thought for Australian governments - most notably under former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott who treated New Zealand rather as if they were rather casual babysitters rather than as if it was a grown up in its own right.

That might still apply on issues such as defence, but Turnbull does not have the same attitude at least when it comes to fiscal and economic management. He noted that the countries were so similar that if something worked in one, it would probably work in the other.

The proclamation that New Zealand and Australia will work together on the TPP and presumably in other areas in which Trump and Brexit affect the Trans Tasman interests is also a win - the voices of two are stronger than one alone and when it comes to the attention-consuming musings of US President Donald Trump, loud voices are a necessity.

Prime Minister Bill English, his wife, Dr Mary English and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy on their water taxi in Queenstown. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English, his wife, Dr Mary English and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy on their water taxi in Queenstown. Photo / Mark Mitchell

And even in the deep south of New Zealand around Lake Wakatipu - almost as far away from Washington as you can get - Trump was omnipresent.

The two Prime Ministers ran a counter-offensive against Trump, in particular his stance on trade and the Trans Pacific Partnership. It was couched in diplomatic rather than blunt terms - and without reference to Trump specifically, but the message was clear: the Anzac partners would work together to try to hold together the Trans Pacific Partnership and stop protectionist measures spreading.


There was also some commentary on Trump's personal style, although that was even more between the lines than the pincer movement on trade.

Both Turnbull and English had recent phone conversations with Trump - Turnbull's was a fractious affair over the US agreement to take refugees from Australian asylum seeker centres from which Turnbull ultimately emerged victorious.

English's call stayed on the pleasant small talk side of the ledger.

Asked about dealing with Trump, Turnbull made it clear he would not be cowed.

"Well, the only approach to take when dealing with any President or Prime Minister is to be frank and forthright. And I'm too old to be any different, I might add.  I suspect Bill is too old to change too."

Asked if they agreed with Trump's accusations of media creating 'fake news,' Turnbull - who was briefly a journalist - observed there was little point in picking such a fight.

"A very great politician Winston Churchill once said that politicians complaining about the newspapers is like a sailor complaining about the sea."

Turnbull wrongly attributed the Enoch Powell quote to Winston Churchill, but agreed with its sentiments. English, despite his English literature degree, was far less poetic, telling the reporter who had asked that if the media got something wrong, English would simply tell them: "we don't call it fake news."

However, there was possibly some sympathy for Trump's position in Turnbull's wry smile and English's laugh when Turnbull added: "we have to get our message across and we thank you all in the media for your kind attention."

Speaking to media before leaving, Turnbull said it had been a valuable visit. He said he had enjoyed getting to know Prime Minister Bill English better and his wife Mary.

"We a had very enjoyable dinner last night, we've had a nice walk, we have got to know each other much better. I have known Bill for many years. This is the first opportunity we've had to spend time with Mary English. Each of us - and you can say the same thing about John and Bronagh Key - are couples that have been together for a very long time, very strong couples, if you like, and we have had a very good discussion."

He has invited English to go kayaking on Sydney Harbour.

"Although, of course, I'm not excessively competitive when it comes to kayaking but I do notice that if he is good enough to beat a champion shearer, I suspect his upper body strength might be pretty awesome so we'll see how we go. It will be good."

Turnbull had again turned down a New Zealand offer to take 150 refugees from Australia's asylum seeker centres each year, saying while he appreciated the offer, the priority was the United States agreement to take 1,200.