Australian High Commission
New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand – Friends, Partners, Allies

Australia and New Zealand – Friends, Partners, Allies

Address to the Australian Defence Strategic Studies Course, H E Harinder Sidhu

19 September 2022


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Ngā mihi o te ata.

Nau mai, haere mai ki te kōmihana nui o te whenua moe moe a.

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

Before I begin, I wish to express our sadness at the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and extend our sincere condolences to members of the Royal Family.

May I acknowledge at the outset the important role the Australian War College plays in developing the future leaders and thinkers of our times.

It is those qualities which the Australian War College inculcates – of critical thinking and deep analysis; of developing a strategic view of the world; and of applying your skills to help shape the world we are in – that we need ever more today.

For, as Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said recently, “we face the most challenging set of strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War.”

There is a fair bit of evidence to support that proposition right now.

Front of mind is Russia’s unilateral, illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.

We continue to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic – a truly global crisis, which has left no country unscathed.

We are facing economic pressures, inflation and supply chain disruptions brought about both by the pandemic and the Ukraine war.  We expect these, and their related social effects, will play out for some time to come.

Climate change is now a pressing crisis, as we see effects from record rains and floods in Australia and New Zealand, and record heatwaves in Europe.

We face shifting power dynamics and intensifying competition and complexity in the Indo-Pacific, as we adjust to the rise of powers such as China and India.

The global rules-based order, that has underpinned stability and enabled countries like Australia and New Zealand to focus on economic growth and prosperity, is becoming increasingly contested.

At the same time, we face asymmetric threats such as cyber, disinformation, terrorism and threats to critical infrastructure.

I cannot recall another time when we had so many concurrent, overlapping challenges confronting individual nations and the globe at the same time.

No country can face these alone.  Global problems need to be solved at a global scale, that is true.  But, closer to home, we need friends, partners and allies.


Australia and New Zealand – ‘like family’

Given the discussions you are about to have over coming days, it’s worth asking what kind of a friend, partner and ally is New Zealand for Australia?

It seems ridiculous even to ask.  The closeness of our relationship is so obvious to us both that we often take it for granted.

I’ve been High Commissioner here in Aotearoa New Zealand for nearly six months now.  In that time, I have learned things that have surprised me.

So I thought I would share some observations with you.  These reflect on where Australia and New Zealand are alike, where we are different, and what this all means for our strategic partnership in the world we face together.

The thing that struck me most forcefully when I arrived here was the strength of our personal connections.

On her first official visit here in June this year, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia sees New Zealand ‘as family’.

And that is literally true!  

Around 670,000 New Zealand citizens live in Australia (close to 15% of New Zealand's population), while around 70,000 Australians live in New Zealand.

In my own exchanges with Kiwis as High Commissioner, almost everyone has a personal story or experience linking them to Australia – they’ve lived, studied, worked in Australia; or have family in Australia.


And for all the sporting banter and rivalry, we tend to like one another. Polling from the Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute shows:


  • When thinking about Australia’s best friend in the world, the majority of Australians (57%) look to New Zealand and this number is rising;


  • New Zealand also leads the ‘feelings thermometer’, with 86% of Australians surveyed having a very warm feeling towards NZ;
  • And it goes both ways The 2022 Asia NZ Foundation survey found Kiwis view Australia as their closest friend, with 84% seeing Australia as friendly (although I do think much of this has to do with NZ holding the Bledisloe Cup for the past 20 years).

This affinity means that, in times of need, we call on each other first for help.

To cite just one example: during the 2019-20 Australian bushfires, we remember that New Zealand sent their best to help in the midst of danger and tragedy.

Just last week, I had the great pleasure to recognise the services rendered by the NZ Defence Force, Fire and Emergency NZ and the Rural Fire Service of New Zealand, with the award of the Australian National Emergency Medal and 2019-20 Bushfire clasp.

Our people connections are matched by our economic links.

Australia is New Zealand’s second largest trading partner and by far its largest investor, accounting for over half of New Zealand’s FDI.  Similarly, Kiwis invest more in Australia than they invest anywhere else.

This economic relationship is underpinned by the Closer Economic Relations Agreement, which is 40 years old next year.  It’s a gold standard FTA recognised as one of the closest, broadest and most effective in the world.

Today, over three-quarters of New Zealand businesses that export goods and services derive their income from Australia. It’s a testament to the success of our single economic market.

These very tangible artefacts of the relationship rely on much less tangible factors.

We share common values in how we engage with the world - respect for civil liberties, the rule of law, open economies and stable governance.

Australia is New Zealand’s sole military ally.

We share an historic identity as ANZACs. We have a proud history of shared military endeavour. Over more than a century, from the shores of Gallipoli to the sands of Iraq, our troops have served side by side.

Our geography and proximity, and shared history and values, have built a special and enduring Trans-Tasman relationship.

What all this creates is a deep trust in each other.  I cannot think of another bilateral relationship in the world that even comes close.


What’s different?

Of course, we are nations in our own right and there are differences between us.  Three key differences stand out for me.

One was evident at the start of my address to you, when I greeted you all in te reo Māori – the Māori language.  Aotearoa New Zealand’s embrace of its Māori heritage and language is today shaping a distinct national identity and outlook.

There is much we can learn from New Zealand as Australia moves forward on our path to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart and as we also evolve our own First Nations Foreign Policy.

A second difference is size.

At 5.1 million, New Zealand’s population is slightly smaller than the population of Sydney (5.3 million).

And its GDP is around one-sixth of Australia’s (World Bank data 2021 – Australia = $US1.54 trillion; NZ = $US 250 billion).

New Zealand’s land mass is the combined area of Australia’s two smallest states – Victoria and Tasmania.

At the same time, New Zealand’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is more than 15 times its land mass – the fifth largest in the world (Australia’s is the third largest EEZ in the world). 

Which brings me to my third point.

This size difference matters, because – together with our history and geography – it shapes very different perceptions about our strategic reach and influence in the world.

For example, unlike New Zealand, Australia’s mainland came under attack in World War II – a fact that resonates for Australians even today.  

We learned then that we could not always rely on our larger power (the UK at the time) to protect us.  A need for self-reliance, coupled with strong attention to maintaining alliances, has been woven into our strategic outlook ever since.

In contrast, New Zealand’s ‘fear of abandonment’ (with apologies to Allan Gyngell) is economic.  One of its most searing memories is the deep economic shock it suffered when Britain joined the European Union.

So it is not surprising, then, that New Zealand prioritises trade in its foreign policy.  Or that Australians think about national security more than our Kiwi neighbours.

Polling by the Lowy Institute shows that, in 2022, a bare majority of Australians feel ‘safe’ or ‘very safe’ in the world – continuing a drop in that number each year since 2005.

New Zealanders’ primary security concerns go toward broader threats, such as cyberattacks, misinformation and climate change, according to Asia New Zealand Foundation polling.


Facing the World Together

One result of these differences is that, inevitably, Australia invests much more in defence and security matters than does New Zealand.  At last count, Australia spent around $9 for every $1 that New Zealand spends on defence.

I’ve found that this disparity in resourcing is, from time to time, a source of anxiety on both sides of the Tasman.

However, comparing defence spending alone can be overly reductive. 

It needs to be considered in the context of other questions such as how much spending is needed to protect sovereign interests; how resources are deployed across the national security agenda beyond defence; and what other security assets – including alliances or partnerships – are in place.

Both Australia and New Zealand now have Defence Reviews underway, which provide an opportunity to consider these questions in a structured way.

It’s worth setting this question in a wider context.  There are many and varied ways that Australia and New Zealand combine our efforts effectively to contribute to regional and global security.

We do so across the entire sweep of the international agenda. 

Reflecting on my own experience, it is always the case for Australian diplomats posted abroad that our New Zealand colleagues are our closest and most trusted partners.  They are the first people I seek out when I arrive on posting.

In multilateral settings, Australia and New Zealand work seamlessly together, sharing our effort in support of a rules-based order. 

This is particularly so on the trade agenda – in the WTO and in smaller groupings – where we put our shared outlook into action, to build likeminded coalitions and to argue our case for free and open trade.

Australia this year celebrates 75 years of international peacekeeping.  And in just about every peacekeeping mission that Australia has contributed to – from the Middle East and Africa to Southeast Asia, Bougainville, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands – our Kiwi partners have been there with us.

The value of the Trans-Tasman strategic partnership, therefore, is not just that we share so much in common, but that we each also bring our unique perspectives, strengths and capabilities to every endeavour.

Working together in the Pacific

Nowhere is the power of this partnership clearer than in the Pacific.

This is a region that is today facing numerous challenges.  Chief among these is climate change – the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.

This is a region that is striving to achieve economic and social development, to manage natural resources, respond to natural disasters and, increasingly, to balance growing strategic competition.

This is also a region we both call home.

Australia and New Zealand each have long traditions of engagement with the Pacific, whether it is through our significant investments in development assistance, supporting peace and stability, or by virtue of our significant Pacific diasporas.

We have worked closely together, and in tandem with our wider Pacific family, to support Pacific nations in times of need:

  • The ADF and NZDF, including Fiji, operated together in response to the devastating volcano eruption in Tonga in January 2022; and


  • Together with other members of the Pacific family, Australia and New Zealand contributed to the response to unrest in Solomon Islands last year.

The Australian Government is now bringing new energy and more resources to the Pacific, to support build a stronger Pacific family.

This is a whole-of-government effort.

We are working to support a strong, united Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), central to protecting our interests in a peaceful, prosperous and resilient region.

But most importantly, we are working with our Pacific partners on issues they care about – on climate, Covid and economic development. 

On climate change, this means taking strong action at home, but also supporting Pacific countries to face the climate crisis.

Key to this is climate finance.  Australia has made a commitment to deliver $700m in climate finance over five years (2020-21 to 2024 -25) to build climate change and disaster resilience in Pacific island countries.

This is on top of a Pacific ODA budget of around $1.85 billion, with the Government now having announced an additional $525 million in ODA for the Pacific over four years.

Likewise, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Mahuta, announced in Tonga (on 19 August) a climate finance strategy underpinned by $NZ1.3 billion (2022-2025).

And here again, Australia and New Zealand are harnessing our partnership – with each other and guided by our Pacific partners – to make sure that our contributions are well-coordinated and effective.

Together, we also play an important role in supporting external partners to engage in our region in ways that deliver for the Pacific on its priorities. [For example, through the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative].


Conclusion – looking to the future

It doesn’t take much examination to appreciate what a rich and diverse relationship Australia and New Zealand have.

I opened with a list of the challenges we are facing in our region and globally.

Any thoughtful analyst looking into the near future can be certain that those challenges will not recede.  If anything, we can expect them to intensify.

As I contemplate the next few years of my tenure here in New Zealand, it is already clear to me that we will call on our partnership more often, and in new ways.

We need to consider what kind of world we want to live in.  On this, the goals of Australia and New Zealand are aligned.

What are we seeking? Foreign Minister Penny Wong put Australia’s view forward, when speaking in Kuala Lumpur in June:

“…we all agree that we want to live in a region that is stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.

Where disputes are guided by international law and norms, not by power and size.

A region that is peaceful and predictable.”

It is not enough, however, to set out our aspirations for the region. We have to move to action.

Prime Minister Albanese said in May  “unless we shape the future, the future will shape us”

To shape our future, we need to deploy all our tools of statecraft, of which defence is but one.

We need to recognise our strengths, and work to keep investing in them.

And we need to work ever closer with partners in the region toward these shared goals.  Because no one country can do this alone.

As I hope you now appreciate, Australia and New Zealand’s special partnership is a key asset, and one that we will need to continue to build and strengthen, so we can achieve the vision for our region that we both share.

We have work to do. 

And it’s work I am looking forward to very much.

Thank you

Ngā mihi nui.

No reira

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.