A constant through the modern era has been the special relationship between Australia and New Zealand. Both former British colonies share a common cultural heritage, geopolitical interests, and an international reputation for being laid-back and welcoming.
With the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, visiting New Zealand this past weekend, the Nexus Team has explored the Australia – New Zealand relationship. We have analysed the past, current trends, as well as the future potential of the Trans-Tasman relationship.
THE PAST: FROM ANZACS TO ANZUS
Even before nationhood, the Australian colonies and New Zealand shared a close affiliation as British domains in the Pacific. Legally, Australia and New Zealand are still members of the Commonwealth of Nations, sharing Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch and head of state.
This common bond was maintained and reforged through the tumultuous first half of the 20th Century. In World War One, World War Two, Korea, and UN Peacekeeping missions, a common interest in regional defence and stability saw the two Pacific nations work closely together. This alliance is maintained through the continuing importance of the ANZAC legacy as a cultural bedrock of both countries.
In many respects, cooperation defines the Trans-Tasman relationship:
- A common stance on defence was affected through ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty) from 1951.
- The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement has facilitated migration between the countries from 1973 onwards.
- The “Closer Economic Relations” (CER) Free Trade agreement of 1983 paved the way for economic integration and a steady increase in trade over time. The CER removed tariffs and other barriers for trade and investment, allowing goods and services to be exchanged without arbitrary barriers.
While close, New Zealand and Australia have had some disagreements in the past, with immigration rights being a point of controversy. Since 2001, Australia has limited access to social services for New Zealand nationals while living in Australia. In a move widely condemned by New Zealand commentators, changes to the Australian Migration Act saw more than 1000 New Zealand ex-pats living in Australia be deported back to New Zealand.
Despite this, cultural ties and economic considerations have incentivised civil dialogue between Australia and New Zealand – even in light of contentious issues. As Stephen Hoadley, Professor of International Relations at the University of Auckland, notes, “Since the long-term benefits outweigh the shorter-term costs and occasional irritants, New Zealand will continue to be Australia’s closest partner, and vice versa.”
THE PRESENT: ECONOMIC TIES AND COVID-19
Australia and New Zealand continue to enjoy close economic ties. In 2019, investment between New Zealand and Australia was almost NZ$197 billion, while trade increased to NZ$28 billion.
COVID-19 has created new challenges and opportunities for the Australia – New Zealand relationship. As island nations, both countries were successfully able to manage the disease through effective quarantine measures and international border closures.
Once COVID was controlled locally, a ‘travel bubble’ between the two nations was established, enabling New Zealanders and Australians to resume travel before the opening of broader international borders.
Since 19 April 2021, this system has operated, with the borders sporadically closing to account for localised outbreaks. With hospitality and tourism among the worst affected sectors from the global pandemic, the travel bubble has bolstered both nations in the slow global recovery from COVID-19.
THE FUTURE: CHINA, TRADE AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY IN THE PACIFIC
On Sunday, 30 May 2021, the Hon Scott Morrison MP began bilateral discussions with his New Zealand counterpart, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern MP, seeking to reach a joint position on China.
Both nations are economically and geographically close to China, despite maintaining security ties with the dominant military power – the United States. In the last decade, the tension between the two largest powers has seen Australia and New Zealand take disparate approaches in navigating the contradiction between economic and national security interests.
While recent Australian foreign policy adopted an assertive strategy in dealing with China, New Zealand has favoured a more cautious approach in handling the PRC. As Australia suffered from trade sanctions and colder Sino-Australian relations, New Zealand recently re-signed its 2008 free trade agreement with China, early this year. To this effect the New Zealand Trade Minister, the Hon Damien O’Connor MP, even suggested that “If [Australia] were to follow us and show respect,” it would result in normalised relations with China (March, 2021).
Recently, New Zealand appeared to have re-aligned its approach to China. Distancing herself from accusations of appeasement, Prime Minister Ardern noted that Australia and New Zealand were united in “maintaining a strong and principled perspective on issues around trade and human rights”. This suggests that Australia and New Zealand look to cooperate more closely to manage the growing power of China in the Pacific.
Beyond China, several potential initiatives seek to strengthen the Trans-Tasman Link
Legacy ties to other anglophone nations may be leveraged under CANZUK, a proposed alliance structure composed of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and the UK. With the United Kingdom finalising its departure from the EU, conservative-aligned policymakers have sought to create a common trade and migration union with other members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
While such an alliance would further stitch together bilateral relations between Australia and New Zealand, the disparaty between the member nation’s economies and geographic isolation of the CANZUK states could pose a considerable challenge for its conception. With New Zealand historically opposed to nuclear vessels in its sovereign waters and current efforts to distance itself from the 5 Eyes alliance, the security ambitions of a CANZUK partnership may not align with New Zealand’s priorities in the short term.
With an Australian election looming and Prime Minister Ardern’s Labour Party secure in New Zealand, it is plausible that at some point in the future, two left of centre, ‘Labor/Labour’ parties will hold power across the Tasman. If this were to occur, a shift in environmental policy in the Pacific could be a possibility.
Together with the recently elected Biden administration in the US, two Labor Governments would likely leverage both soft-power and economic incentives to encourage Pacific nations to develop more robust environmental policies and targets.
Despite challenges, the future is bright for the Trans-Tasman partnership
Into the future, Australia and New Zealand are likely to maintain a close and amicable relationship. Beginning as a military alliance, Australian and New Zealand relations evolved into the systems of economic integration enjoyed today and furthered through initiatives such as the travel bubble.
The rise of China in the Pacific may force the relationship closer still, forging stronger security ties and continuing a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
WHAT ARE THE NEXUS TEAM WATCHING?
AMA PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
With a small break in Parliamentary Sittings next week, the AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, will be delivering his first landmark speech to the National Press Club, entitled ‘Post-pandemic future for Australia’s health care system’.
His speech will coincide with the launch of the AMA’s new report titled “AMA’s Vision for Australia’s Health”.
Appointed AMA President in August 2020, Dr Khorshid has had a long and successful career in the medical profession and within the WA Branch of the AMA, where he served as its President.
The Nexus team will be eagerly watching Dr Khorshid’s speech to hear the peak medical body’s vision for a better Australian health care system.
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