Australian High Commission
New Zealand

High Commissioner: ‘New Zealand and Australia – A partnership for a changing world’, 21 March 2024

Address to NZIIA Auckland

‘New Zealand and Australia – A partnership for a changing world’

H E Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand

21 March 2024



E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi, e rau rangatira mā,

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.



It’s a pleasure to join you all today.

I’d especially like to thank NZIIA Auckland Branch Chair Dr Rouben Azizian for the invitation to speak to you this evening.

A new year and a change of government presents an opportunity to take a fresh look at the Australia-New Zealand relationship.

We have seen, since the election, an energetic flurry of exchanges across the Tasman.

Just before Christmas in December, Prime Minister Luxon made his first official visit to Australia to meet with Prime Minister Albanese.  Of course they met again only recently in Melbourne, when Prime Minister Luxon attended a dinner as part of the Australia-ASEAN Summit.

In February, Australian and New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministers met for the first time in a new “2+2” format, known as ANZMIN. It was significant because this was the first time New Zealand had participated in a meeting on strategic policy in this format with anyone.

And there have been numerous other ministerial visits and meetings too in recent months, including Finance Minister Willis’s meeting with Treasurer Chalmers, and meetings between our Trade Ministers.

While it’s been a bit of a tradition for our leaders and Ministers to connect after a change of government, it’s too easy to take it for granted.  If you think about it for a moment, the priority we place on these exchanges is a sign of just how significant the trans-Tasman relationship is to both of us.

And this is what I want to talk about tonight.

As we look ahead to 2024 and beyond, the pace of geopolitical and economic change is only accelerating. In the face of multiple, concurrent challenges in our region and the world, the Australia - New Zealand partnership matters perhaps more now than it ever has.

So I propose this evening to traverse how Australia sees these challenges, to describe our policy responses to them, and then to lay out for you how I see the shape of the trans-Tasman partnership evolving to address them.


Global outlook

Firstly, let me touch on what we are seeing in the world today.

Some of you may be familiar with the Australia in the World podcast (if not, I can highly recommend it). The host, Darren Lim of the Australian National University, chose ‘Polycrisis’ as his 2022 word of the year.   And I think it’s apt.

The World Economic Forum has defined Polycrisis as “where disparate crises interact such that the overall impact far exceeds the sum of each part”. A rather a good word to sum up what we have been seeing around us.

We are seeing multiple crises continue into 2024, with this February marking two years since Russia’s illegal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Conflict in the Middle East persists, as does the devastating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have highlighted how conflict can threaten global trade security, supply chains and inflation, and directly affect our economies and people even in our corner of the world. 

What is of particular concern is what is happening closer to home.

The Pacific – the region we both call home – is now fast becoming a theatre for strategic competition.

In the South China Sea – a region essential to Australia and New Zealand’s freedom of navigation and trade routes – we see intensified militarisation of disputed features and unsafe behaviour at sea and air.

Indeed, militaries across the Indo-Pacific region are building and arming at a scale and speed we’ve not seen in decades, with little transparency or strategic reassurance.

So if we ever thought that our geographic isolation provided protection from these trends, we’re under no illusions now.

Economically, outside of the Covid pandemic and the Global Financial Crisis, the next two years are expected to be the weakest for global growth in over two decades. Inflation remains high for us both.

Trade, investment, and industrial policy are increasingly being used as tools of influence.

We are seeing economic coercion, unsustainable lending, political interference and disinformation. All these undermine the ability of sovereign nations to make their own decisions and pursue their interests.

If that weren’t enough, climate change is now an existential threat.

Not least for our Pacific partners to whom our own prosperity and security is tied and to whom we have a responsibility.

There are of course other challenges.  I haven’t yet, for instance, touched on the impact of artificial intelligence and rapid technology change which will shape our economies and societies both in good and not-so-good ways.

All these developments point to a world that is a multi-faceted theatre for instability.


Australia’s response

It’s a grim picture. And one I expect most of you are familiar with. Some days, even diplomacy feels like a contact sport. 

For those of us who have worked in and around international relations, what we are seeing – in terms of the individual issues, but also the cumulative effect of multiple crises – is unprecedented.

It’s clear that we need to adapt the tools, institutions and tradecraft on which we have relied since the end of the Second World War so that we are better equipped to meet these challenges and protect our national interests.

We also recognise that the speed of these developments mean that we cannot delay our responses.

As the Australian Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, told an audience here in Auckland just last year - “this decade will be a defining decade for all of us”.


In the face of this, Australia’s response has been grounded in a clear-eyed view of our national interest and what it will take to protect it.

While this ‘polycrisis’ can seem overwhelming, our first principle is to recognise we all have agency in how we respond.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said that we should not present passivity as a feasible option. We should not think that it is possible to stand by and hope for the best, while others make choices on our behalf.

So, how has Australia gone about exercising its agency?

To continue my earlier anecdote, at the same time that Darren Lim nominated ‘Polycrisis’ as his word of the year, his co-host and one of Australia’s best foreign policy minds, the late Allan Gyngell, chose ‘Statecraft’ as his 2022 word of the year.

This word captures perfectly how Australia is responding.

This is how the Australian Government describes our foreign policy approach:

We are using all our tools of statecraft, or national power, to seek a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, that operates by agreed rules, standards and norms and where each country can freely pursue its own interests and aspirations.

Set against the challenges we face in the world, achieving this goal will require unprecedented coordination and ambition. It will take persistence and courage, and involve our nation at home as well as overseas.


Foreign Policy Starts at home

Our starting point is to build our own domestic resilience. We are engaging in a whole-of-nation effort.

This requires all parts of our system to look ahead and act to position Australia in the best way possible.

We are working to strengthen our economy, to build resilience in supply chains and infrastructure, to counter foreign interference and to set ourselves up better for the future.

Our climate policy is a case in point. 

In 2022, we legislated a stronger international emissions reduction target, lifting it from 26 per cent to 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

This target is underpinned by a raft of domestic policies aimed at meeting this goal.

These include a target for renewable energy to comprise 82 per cent of our National Energy Market by 2030, supported by investments in transforming Australia’s electricity grid and rolling out large-scale community batteries.

They also include incentives for decarbonising our economy – for example supporting households to electrify appliances or broadening the uptake of electric vehicles.  

By the end of last year, we were within striking distance of this target.  But perhaps more importantly, these policies will drive a transformation toward a more efficient and stronger economy over the longer term.

Building our cyber resilience is becoming an ever more important goal..

In November last year, Australia introduced its first Cyber Security Strategy.

By 2030, we aim to be the most cyber secure country in the world and a global leader in cyber security. We are shifting cyber from a technical topic to a whole-of-nation endeavour, focusing on providing better support to civilians and industry.

Our aim is not just to protect, but also to ensure we can bounce back quickly after a cyber incident, which are – unfortunately – happening with increasing frequency.

Similarly, we have created a robust legislative framework for defining and regulating protection of critical infrastructure in key sectors for the economy, such as energy, transport, healthcare and food production and supply.

These measures are not just about supporting our ability to trade or engage in the world economy. 

This effort also understands that a modern and robust economy is necessary to supporting our strategic weight and our ability to contribute to peace and security in the region.


Acting internationally

This is because our national security does not start at our coastline, our physical border.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles has observed that any adversary who sought to harm Australia could likely do so before ever having to enter our territorial waters or our air space[1]. (Marles)

This is why we must press for responsible management of great power competition and we must exercise our agency to maintain peace.

So, in addition to building our domestic resilience, we are seeking to maintain our national security through using our levers of statecraft to balance deterrence with assurance.

It is about finding a balance between defence and diplomacy.

Let me step out for you what this means.

At one end of the spectrum, Australia’s defence policy and strategic posture is built on a principle of deterrence, that is the ability to hold any potential adversaries at risk much further from our shores.

This principle has underpinned the recent decisions by the Australian Government on defence investments, outlined in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review. 

They include the acquisition of nuclear propelled submarines and advanced technologies under the AUKUS partnership.

Debate over the AUKUS submarines is of course healthy, but it can overshadow a clear understanding of the broader strategic intent. It is worth noting that the submarines form only one part of Australia’s wider defence strategy that also includes, for instance, strengthening Australia’s northern approaches and investing in long-range strike.

As we know from the actions of others, large investments in defence capability can raise regional anxieties if they are not also accompanied by transparency and strategic reassurance.

Diplomacy lies at the heart of strategic reassurance.  And also at the heart of the practice of national statecraft.

As put by Minister Wong earlier this year[2], this means working to build coalitions, foster assurance, reduce tensions, avert crisis, [and to] prevent and help resolve disputes.

There is a fundamental connection between defence and diplomacy in this strategy.  In the words of Minister Wong[3]

...without a credible military capability, the efficacy of diplomacy is invariably diminished.

And without ever more active diplomacy, the risk of military capabilities being called into service is greater.

This is why Australia is investing heavily in strengthening our diplomacy. 

We are actively supporting the multilateral system and key regional institutions such as the Pacific Islands Forum, to shore up international and regional norms.

While we will always have global interests, our primary focus is in our region, in the Indo-Pacific and, in particular, the Pacific.

We are working with our closest regional partners in the Pacific to deepen trust and strengthen our partnerships, building on our relationships that are – in many instances – many decades old.

Because even though the world has changed, our geography has not.  This is our home.

We start with being present. 

Since its Pacific Step-up in 2018 Australia has established a diplomatic mission in every Pacific Islands Forum country. Today we have 18 all up.

Within 12 months of her appointment, Foreign Minister Wong visited every Pacific Island Country, some more than once.  Her visits have been supplemented by numerous visits by other Australian leaders, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

We have used these visits to listen, learn and respond to Pacific concerns. 

For example, Australia’s International Development Policy last year made clear that respecting Pacific priorities is central to our engagement on development. 

In the Pacific, for example, this has meant we are taking climate action and climate resilience seriously and are investing in critical infrastructure.

Together with other Pacific partners such as New Zealand, we are contributing to Pacific security, for example through supporting the Solomon Islands Assistance Force or working with partners to combat illegal fishing.

And we are supporting the Pacific Islands Forum as the premier institution in the region, which has had a long and successful track record of collective action to preserve the prosperity and security of the Pacific Family.

In all of our diplomacy, we know that we cannot achieve the kind of region we seek alone.  Alliances, partnerships and institutions play a critical role.

And nowhere do we have a better partner than New Zealand.


Australia and New Zealand: Modernising our Partnership

Around the world, and especially in the Pacific, New Zealand has a respected voice and vital presence.

While internationally our two countries are often closely associated with each other, it is the unique differences that we each bring to the partnership which make us stronger together.

Our unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. And that is a good thing.

For Australia, there is no relationship that is as close and trusted as that with our trans-Tasman neighbour.

This opens up the potential for us to think bigger and go further than we might with any other partner.

In 1983, we signed the Closer Economic Relations Agreement which was one of the first Free Trade Agreements in the world and which is still considered a gold-standard agreement. 

In the 40 years since, the CER has delivered prosperity and benefits that are, in some ways, immeasurable. 

We take for granted today how closely integrated our economies are, yet it has come about through the triumph of collaboration over competition.

But the world today is very different to 1983. Our risks now are geostrategic as well as economic.

So it makes sense to consider how our partnership can adapt to meet them.

Last year, our two Prime Ministers launched the Trans Tasman Roadmap to 2035.

The Roadmap marks a departure in how we think and talk about our relationship.

Taking the global environment we face today as its starting point, the Roadmap identifies five areas where Australia and New Zealand have agreed to focus our efforts over the next decade.

These are:

  • A sustainable economic partnership: taking forward the CER and Single Economic Market to include newer areas of economic partnership, such as in climate change or the digital economy;


  • Security and Resilience – recognising the value of our alliance, building defence interoperability and working toward regional stability and security;


  • Partnering in the Pacific – bringing our individual relationships and approaches to bear in a joint enterprise with our Pacific partners;


  • Upholding global principles, values and norms; and


  • Maintaining our people-to-people links.

If this list seems unsurprising, then it is perhaps because you all recognise, as I do, that Australia and New Zealand have been working in all these areas – and many more besides - for a very long time.

But the point of the Roadmap is to create a framework around which we can clarify our focus.  Without this, we risk trying to do everything and achieving very little.

You will also notice that these 5 themes have strong resonance with the areas of focus that I sketched out earlier for responding to global challenges – be it in building domestic resilience, strengthening our defences or using diplomacy to advocate for and build peace and stability. 

That New Zealand also shares these priorities is a reflection of the strong natural alignment between us.

Australia and New Zealand will bring different ideas, skills and capabilities to this effort.  And I am confident that, together, we can make a difference for the better in our region and in the world.



In finishing, I want to make a case – indeed, it’s a bit of a plea – for looking at our relationship with fresh eyes. 

I find that too often we resort to history to describe ourselves. We speak of our shared ANZAC tradition or a sense that we are ‘family’.

Those things are important and right.  But we do our relationship a disservice if we allow ourselves to be defined only in such sentimental terms.  It’s a short step from there to taking each other for granted.

Better, I think, to work toward building a mature, respectful relationship between equals. And, in doing so, to look to the future.

We should consider how we can harness our incredible foundation of trust, confidence and shared values, not just to our mutual benefit, but also to meet the very considerable challenges the world is throwing at us.  In the process, we can also seek to make the world a better place.

Here’s an example. In 2024 there will be at least 64 elections including in the US, Russia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands and India.

The results of some of these will prove consequential for years to come and will impact their own countries, their neighbours and also the state of freedom and democracy in the world.

Australia and New Zealand were founding members of the United Nations.  We have a long history of championing liberty and openness to make a real difference in the world.

We can do the same now, using the clever and creative diplomacy that we are each renowned for.

Harnessing our respective strengths, at home and internationally, is both urgent and important if we want to have a say in the kind of region and world we live in.

I look forward to seeing what we can do together and, in my small way, to playing a part in that.

Thank you and I look forward to an interesting discussion.



[1] Marles Address to Defence Industry Dinner 27 February 2023 Address to Defence Industry Dinner | Defence Ministers

[2] Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Keynote Address to the 7th Indian Ocean Conference, Perth, 10 February 2024 Keynote Address to the 7th Indian Ocean Conference | Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs (

[3] Wong, Indian Ocean Conference, 10 February 2024.