Australian High Commission
New Zealand

High Commissioner: The Importance of Citizen Diplomacy through Sister City Connections

High Commissioner Remarks to Global Cities Conference

Marlborough, 14 March 2024

“The importance of Citizen Diplomacy through Sister City Connections”



E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangataha maha,


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.


Good afternoon everyone.  It’s a genuine pleasure to be here today.  


I’d like especially to thank Global Cities New Zealand and the Marlborough District Council for bringing us together and for inviting me to speak on this panel alongside my diplomatic colleagues.


Any discussion about diplomacy is close to my heart, but this one perhaps particularly so.  Here’s why:


Why diplomacy?


Boiled down to its essentials, diplomats work to secure the peace and prosperity of their nations.


We do this through building understanding, relationships and connections with other countries; and often by advocacy or persuasion of the merits of working toward a cause which we think could be to the benefit of both or all parties. 


Increasingly, the business of diplomacy – the pursuit of peace and prosperity – happens outside the rarefied halls of power.  Citizens, communities and – yes – cities, are key. 


Let me explain how this might work.


Cities Matter


For as long as humans have gathered to socialise, trade, work or live in groups beyond their immediate families and tribes, we have understood the benefits of agglomeration.


Cities evolved because we worked out that large groups of people living close together bring great benefits.


These include the ability to match economic activity more efficiently – so suppliers and consumers are closer together, for instance.  It is easier for people to find work, because transport needs are lower and employers are more plentiful.  Knowledge is more easily shared and this is why cities are powerhouses for the transfer of ideas and innovation.


Now I don’t mean to gloss over the many challenges of urban life – the environmental impacts, rising inequality or increases in crime. 


But time and again, we see outstanding examples of leadership tackling these challenges.


For example, the City of Sydney has put in place an environmental strategy for 2021-25 which is targeting a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2006 levels; net zero emissions by 2035 and is seeking to meet 50% of its electricity demand by renewable sources by 2030.


The City of Sydney’s Climate Adaptation Strategy is already delivering results.  Over 10,000 trees have been planted, parks drought-proofed and light-coloured pavements installed to reduce the urban heat island effect.


So the actions that cities take matter tremendously to people’s every day lives. Through building social cohesion, order and understanding, they can promote peace.  Through maximising economic opportunity and reducing inequality, they support prosperity.


And, when these benefits are aggregated across all cities and across nations, the effect can be profound.



Australia and New Zealand are natural partners


Take the Australia-New Zealand partnership as a case.


For all our attachment to our rural histories and origins, around 87% of people in both countries live in cities.  We share similar systems of government and law; our histories, values and cultures are deeply intertwined.


This opens up tremendous scope for city-to-city partnerships. 


The Wellington-Canberra sister city relationship is one example.  Since it was established in 2016, both cities have worked together to share our approaches on tourism, the environment and creative industries.


We are both capital cities and the seat of government for our two countries, so it makes sense to have this relationship.  And for a brief, bright moment before it was scuttled by the Covid pandemic, we even had a direct flight linking the cities.


The Christchurch-Adelaide relationship is another.  Dating back to 1971, this partnership has been successful in expanding trade and commerce relationships between the two cities, as well as enabling regular people-to-people exchange.


We also have sister city relationships between Auckland and Brisbane, Whanganui and Toowoomba, Timaru and Orange.  There are too many more to mention, such is the extent of the city-to-city connections between our two countries.


But beyond this, one of the things that I am struck by, as I talk to people from around New Zealand, is the number of organic city-to-city relationships that exist between Australia and New Zealand. 


It seems to me that, for every formal sister city arrangement that we have in place, there is an example of informal collaboration between cities on different sides of the Tasman. 


While I was in Hamilton recently, I was told about how the local government was working with local government officials in Victoria.  Victorian officials had recently travelled to the Waikato to discuss the shared challenges both regions are facing in infrastructure, and opportunities for their local economies.


Here in the South Island, I know that the Tasmanian government has been working directly with local government in Nelson to enhance their two-way trading relationship. 


The partnership has proven productive for both local economies, with government and business championing initiatives such as a new direct shipping route between the two locations.


We speak a great deal about the Trans-Tasman Closer Economic Relationship Agreement. 


These city-to-city relationships are what bring that Agreement to life, and what gives the Trans-Tasman relationship its dynamism and vitality.  Without them, the CER agreement would be no more than just a piece of paper.


But with these connections, we can each learn, grow and expand our potential to secure the peace and prosperity of our communities and, by extension, our nations.

New Zealand and Australian cities are stronger when they work together.  


And I look forward to seeing our relationship go from strength to strength as a result.


Thank you.


No reira,


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.