Australian High Commission
New Zealand

High Commissioner: ‘A modern Australia-New Zealand Relationship’, 26 June 2024

‘A modern Australia-New Zealand Relationship’

Address by H E Ms Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand


Master of International Relations and Diplomacy (MIRAD) Students, Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Canterbury

26 June 2024


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

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Ko au te māngai o te whenua moemoeā

Ko Harinder Sidhu toku ingoa

Nau mai, haere mai ki te komihana nui o ahitereiria

Ngā mihi mahana kia koutou katoa.


Good morning, and a very warm welcome to the Australian High Commission.

I am delighted to host the MIRAD Programme again here today at the High Commission.

We’ve been participating in your annual fieldtrip for over a decade now, and I think we each get a lot out of the interaction. 

This is partly because, unless you work in government, most people have very little exposure to the diplomatic world. So, I thought it might be interesting to touch on what we do here at the High Commission and my role as High Commissioner. From there I will discuss where we focus our efforts in Australia’s relationship with New Zealand, and why it’s so important.

I also want to leave plenty of time for questions and your responses, so we can explore some of these topics further in our discussion.


The role of a High Commission and a diplomat – a practitioners’ view

If you look at our website, you’ll see that the High Commission is the official representative of the Australian Government in New Zealand, as well as Tokelau and Pitcairn Island. 

We provide a range of services, such as passports and consular support for Australians here in New Zealand. We also work closely with our network of High Commissions and Embassies across the world.

Fundamentally, the role of a diplomat, an Embassy or a High Commission is to be a steward of the bilateral relationship. As High Commissioner, I see this as the core of my role.

This involves a number of dimensions:

The first is to build understanding in both directions.  This makes sense.  Mutual understanding is the fundamental building block of any relationship.  The aim here is to bring us closer together in our outlook and way of working in the relationship, across every conceivable area of policy or activity.

I do this by advising my government about what is happening in New Zealand and, more importantly, why it is happening, what it means and – if necessary – what we might do to respond to events or policies.

But I also work to build understanding in New Zealand about Australia.  It is surprising that, despite how very close our two countries are, we don’t really understand each other as much as we could.  At times, we take each other for granted.

So, through conversations, speeches, meetings and social media – among many other ways – we try to raise understanding about Australia in New Zealand.  Again, all this is in the service of deepening the understanding that is a hallmark of any good and strong relationship.

The second, and just as important, role is advocacy.  We work to promote and protect Australian interests in New Zealand.  We put Australia’s view forward on issues that matter to or affect us.  And we work to resolve differences constructively.

This is much less adversarial than it sounds.  In practice, one of the great pleasures of working in a relationship as close as this is that our interests align. What is good for Australia is usually also good for New Zealand. The differences are often in terms of practice or nuance, which are easily accommodated.  It is usually easy to reach resolution on any issues.

There are also other dimensions to our role:

  • We are the highest representatives of Australia in New Zealand, and much of my function in particular is in being present – for example, at Anzac Day.

  • We also provide consular, passport and other services to Australian citizens in New Zealand

  • And – for me and my senior staff in particular – a significant part of our time is spent simply in managing the operations of this High Commission.  It’s unglamorous, but making sure that budgets are on track and that we have the right staff is absolutely critical to our ability to do everything else.


Taking the bilateral relationship forward – (a) the Strategic Environment

I want to talk more about stewarding the bilateral relationship.

At one level, this sounds like a passive effort – keeping the ship steered in the right direction.

But stewarding can also involve bringing creativity and imagination to lifting a relationship to meet its full potential. This is how I have approached this task since I arrived in Wellington.

There are few countries in the world as close as Australia and New Zealand. But, early on, I noticed that we tend to take each other for granted and don’t invest as much in the relationship as perhaps we should.

We often find it difficult to articulate why the relationship matters, or where it’s going.

Instead, we hark back to past history – the Anzac legend, or the CER agreement – as defining features of the relationship. 

Important as these are, it is always worth examining whether we should do things differently when the circumstances around us change.

I’m sure that as students of international politics, you will be more than aware of the global challenges we face.

We find ourselves in the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War.  The rules based order which has served both our countries so well for decades, is being eroded and now under significant challenge – everywhere from Ukraine to the South China Sea.

For Australia and New Zealand, this is not some distant concern.  Foreign Minister Penny Wong said recently that “we are now in a state of permanent competition in the Pacific.”

For our part, Australia is responding by drawing on all the tools of statecraft available to our nation, to shape our relationships and region. 

This ranges across a spectrum from strengthening our economic resilience to investing in social cohesion.

On foreign and strategic matters, this means an investment both in our defence capability and our diplomatic network.

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 and now the National Defence Strategy.  Key among those is the AUKUS partnership, but also investments in long-range strike and strengthening Australia’s northern approaches.

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 reassurance.

Diplomacy lies at the heart of reassurance. And also at the heart of the practice of foreign policy. Australia recognises this and has simultaneously increased investment in our diplomatic capabilities around the world and level of engagement with partner countries. 

We are investing in our relationships, partnerships and alliances.  This is because we recognise that a world order which protects sovereignty, supports agency and delivers peace and stability arises only through shared and collaborative efforts of many countries, not just by the actions of any single nation alone.


Where does New Zealand fit in here?


Australia and New Zealand are allies and partners.  For all our competitiveness, we share a deep trust between us.  In a crisis, we would always turn to the other first – and we demonstrate this time and again.

So, in the strategic environment we now operate in, this trust is a strategic asset.  It can form the basis for a mature, respectful relationship of equals.  Now more than ever we need to work together to meet shared challenges and to preserve our interests in the rules-based order.

We should ask ourselves what this means for the Trans-Tasman relationship and whether our existing settings are fit for purpose.  We can frame the thought experiment this way – “if we were constructing the ANZ relationship today, using what we already have as a foundation, what would it look like? Where would we focus our efforts?”



Recognising the need to modernise and uplift our relationship, in July last year, our two Prime Ministers launched the Trans Tasman Roadmap to 2035.

It is a statement of where and how we will work together as we face a changing world over the coming decade.

It is a departure in how we think and talk about our relationship.

It aims, in the words of Prime Minister Albanese, to make our partnership “fit for the modern era”.

The Roadmap identifies five pillars where New Zealand and Australia have agreed to focus our efforts over the next decade.  It recognises that Australia and New Zealand will bring different ideas, skills and capabilities to this effort, and that that is a strength.


The five pillars of the Roadmap 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 and working toward regional stability and security; more on this shortly.

Partnering in the Pacific – bringing each of our distinct 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.

The key is that we are focusing our effort in five areas and that we are updating the scope of our traditional efforts.

For example, our partnership has traditionally been economically focused on business, investment and trade.  Now, however, even the economic pillar recognises that the economic challenges we now face are far more complex than those in 1983, when Closer Economic Relations agreement was signed. 

So it encompasses areas such as building economic resilience, aligning our economies to meet the climate challenge and on the digital economy.


The Pacific

Perhaps it is the Pacific pillar which is most salient for our discussion today.

We are active partners in the Pacific and this is where our partnership matters the most.

While we will always have global interests, our primary focus is in our Pacific region.

Because even though the world has changed, our geography has not.  This is our home. Our future success, security and prosperity is undeniably tied to that of our region.

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

The Roadmap lays out the many ways we both work together with other partners in the Pacific. We already do a lot together but we recognise that how we partner matters as much as what we deliver.

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

This means we take climate action and climate resilience seriously. We’re making investments in renewable energy and power grids, often alongside New Zealand, right across the Pacific. Australia recently announced the foundational $100 million for the Pacific Resilience Facility to support Pacific-led climate resilience.

Together, Australia and New Zealand are supporting digital connectivity in Tuvalu through funding a submarine telecommunications cable alongside the US, Japan and Taiwan.

With other Pacific partners, we are also contributing to Pacific security. Alongside PNG and Fiji, we deploy personnel to support Solomon Islands security, building on the legacy of RAMSI. Our Pacific Maritime Security Program delivers training, patrol boats and capability to combat illegal fishing right across the region - a top priority for many of our partners.

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.


Defence cooperation in the Pacific

On the defence front, the interoperability between our defence forces is most powerful when we work together in the Pacific.

We welcomed the release of New Zealand’s 2023 defence review and the clear signals that the government places a high priority on maintaining interoperability with Australia.

New Zealand’s acquisition of P8-A Orion aircraft is a significant step in maintaining interoperability and our capability to conduct joint maritime surveillance operations in our region. We’re already working together to train our crews, maintain our aircraft and deploy the capability of this aircraft.


So, in the Pacific, we saw the ADF and NZDF, alongside Fiji deploy ships and aircraft to deliver lifesaving supplies in in response to the devastating volcano eruption and tsunami in Tonga in January 2022.

More recently we’ve worked together to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Enga PNG, following the devastating landslide. ADF and RNZAF aircraft delivered humanitarian supplies and response specialists.

Of course, ADF and NZDF worked together to evacuate our citizens and those from other countries from New Caledonia during recent unrest.



As we move forward, our focus is necessarily shifting from trade and economics towards the strategic competition in our region and how we can collaborate effectively, particularly in the security and defence space.

It’s clear that Australia and New Zealand have shared interests and recognise that we can achieve more when we work together.

The Roadmap provides a recipe for this. And it is a recipe for the future.

But 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.

As we work together across so many areas, we can leverage these strengths while ensuring that we are building convergence. That the actions we are taking are bringing us into greater alignment, rather than sending us off in different directions.

And this is where the High Commission can add value. As stewards of the relationship, we can steer the work under the roadmap.

We do our relationship a disservice if we allow ourselves to be defined only in sentimental terms.

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 of building a mature, modern, bilateral relationship, we can also seek to make the world a better place.