Panel Discussion at University of Otago - ‘Unity in Diversity - the Australia-NZ Relationship’
Opening remarks by Australian High Commissioner, H E Harinder Sidhu
3 August 2023, Dunedin
Tena Koutou, Tena koutou, Tena koutou Katoa
It’s such a pleasure to be here this evening on my very first visit to Dunedin.
I’d like to thank the University of Otago for hosting this session, and I look forward to an interesting and stimulating discussion.
This is a big week for Dunedin. You’ve just hosted the spectacular - and heartbreaking - match between New Zealand and Switzerland in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
And I will be attending the Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday, cheering on the Wallabies and dreaming of the day we return the Cup to Australia. Hope springs eternal.
For all the banter between our two nations, sport exemplifies our relationship. Even as we compete, sometimes fiercely, on the field, we are capable of deep collaboration. That we are co-hosting the FIFA WWC this year is one sign of the near seamless collaboration we are capable of, to the benefit of both our countries.
In different ways this evening, we will be focusing on the Trans-Tasman relationship. For an Australian diplomat, being posted to New Zealand is a unique experience. There are few other countries in the world where we find ourselves as close as we do with New Zealand.
I’ve been struck by how often our leaders describe the relationship as more than just partners or allies - we use the word ‘family’. In doing that, we are trying to capture the uniqueness of the relationship, the closeness, shared history and -indeed - trust we share.
Our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, used exactly that language when he visited Wellington last week, for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Meeting.
He was here to mark the trifecta of anniversaries our countries celebrate this year - 40 years of the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement, 50 years of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement and 80 years of diplomatic representation.
What is significant is that each of these anniversaries mark a point where we took strides forward into the world by preferencing collaboration between us rather than competition.
While Free Trade Agreements today are commonplace, forty years ago the thought that our two countries would unilaterally remove trade and economic barriers between us was an audacious idea.
But in a world where we each faced significant trade hurdles and economic headwinds, that bold action has paid off many times over. It has driven high levels of trade, developed export readiness among our businesses and attracted billions of dollars in investment across the Tasman.
The world we face today is a very different one to 1983.
Where economic risks were paramount then, our risks today are strategic.
It is fair to say we no longer live in a benign strategic environment - if, indeed, we ever did. In Australia, we have drawn the conclusion that we are living in the most challenging strategic circumstances since World War II.
I’m sure this audience will be more than aware of the issues we face. Growing geostrategic competition, economic coercion and challenges to the rules based system all challenge the basis of Australia and New Zealand’ post-war liberty, security and prosperity.
Our region is now home to the largest military buildup anywhere in the world, with limited transparency and reassurance.
Australia seeks a region which is peaceful and predictable, that is governed by rules and norms, where all our countries and peoples can cooperate, trade and thrive.
We will use all the levers of our statecraft to positively shape our region, and to deter aggression and coercion.
This means an investment both in our defence capability (deterrence) and in diplomacy (reassurance). Recent policy decisions by the Australian Government [eg the Defence Strategic Review, decisions in the 2023-24 Budget] have seen a significant uptick in our investment in both defence and diplomacy. The Pacific is, naturally, a central focus of our attention.
What we also know is that this is not a goal that Australia - or any country - can achieve alone. We need friends, partners and allies.
And we need family.
There is no country on earth that we trust as much as we do New Zealand. So it is natural that, as we look to how we face the world into the future, we would turn first to New Zealand as a partner of choice.
Just last week our two Prime Ministers launched a Trans Tasman Roadmap to 2035. The Roadmap is more than just another diplomatic declaration.
It is a statement of where and how we will work together as we face a future filled with economic and strategic challenge for us both, sharing our knowledge and harnessing our strengths.
The Roadmap is built around five key pillars - economic/climate change; defence and security; working together in the pacific; supporting and promoting values and the rules based order; and continuing to maintain deep people-to-people links.
This last also prioritises indigenous collaboration between us, deepening the bonds between our people in new ways. We can learn from each other on our respective journeys toward indigenous reconciliation.
In short, it is a recipe for diplomatic collaboration. And it is a recipe for the future.
Today, the trust between our two countries is more than a feature of our relationship. It is also a strategic asset. Just as we did with the CER 40 years ago, we are now entering a new phase of the relationship.
As the theme of this evening’s event suggests, we do not seek to be identical. Our unity of purpose does not mean uniformity of approach. What makes us different can also be a strength.
But what will be key is a sense of common purpose, and a spirit of collaboration.
Having observed the interactions between our Prime Ministers, Ministers, parliamentarians and officials last week, I am optimistic that we will get there.
But we also need to harness our best minds and the best advice to meet the challenge. And that is what I hope we can explore this evening, as we work toward harnessing our collective strengths to meet the challenges of the future.