Gdday mate - the Aussie charm offensive hits the Beehive
By Richard Harman (author)
The Australian Government has mounted an unprecedented charm offensive on the Ardern Government with the Prime Minister and three top Cabinet Ministers now having called their New Zealand counterparts.
That the Ministerial calls were on the day that the Ministers were sworn in at Government House demonstrates a real intent by the Turnbull Government to get on side with the new New Zealand Government quickly.
Ardern herself is hardly known to the Australians.
Until last Thursday when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called her she had never spoken to him.
Bill English, on the other hand, was well known to the Australian Cabinet including Treasurer Scott Morrison who was CEO of the New Zealand Ministry of Tourism and Sport between 1998 and 2000.
Ms Bishop said in August she would have trouble trusting a New Zealand Labour government after a Labour MP asked a question in New Zealand parliament which lead to the revelation Barnaby Joyce was a dual citizen.
(Ironically the Australian High Court decision on Joyce’s citizenship is due today along with four others and could deprive the Turnbull Government of its Parliamentary majority.)
“There’s certainly a lot of areas which I don’t want to outline now that we have to work seriously on to better our relationship with Australia,” said the new Foreign Minister Winston Peters on Wednesday.
“I think we can’t deny it that here we are in October 2017 and our relationship is not what it should be. I think everybody in this coalition understands that.”
Peters comments have received widespread media coverage in Australia and he spoke to Bishop yesterday.
Afterwards she tweeted “Delighted to speak with Winston Peters new Deputy PM/Foreign Minister-designate reaffirming our strong friendship across Tasman."
Defence Minister Ron Mark received two calls.
His Australian counterpart, Senator Marise Payne, called and affirmed that the two countries’ defence relationship was still las strong as it was when the two first fought side by side at Gallipoli.
“It was just talking about our relationship and the history of two nations that are essentially joined at the hip, economically, militarily and strategically,” he told POLITIK.“
Mark also received a call from the Australian Minister for Defence Procurement, Christopher Pyne, which he said was really just a courtesy congratulatory call.
But Pyne’s early call points to a major issue Mark will have to deal with --- how to co-ordinate New Zealand’s $20 billion defence procurement programme against Australia.
Australia will be looking for New Zealand to make purchases that can be inter-operable with current Australian assets.
This was a point made by Payne in her call to Mark.
The immediate purchase is the replacement for the P3 Orion Maritime Surveillance aircraft.
Australia has already purchased three P8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and has another nine on order to replace their Orions.
But Japan and Europe have been lobbying in Wellington to their aircraft considered.
The Australians themselves will want to be in the frame for the supply of the new naval ships being purchased.
The 2016 Defence Capability Report projected that by 2030 New Zealand would have replaced its two frigates.
They were both built in Australia and Australia would want to supply any replacements.
But what this barrage of calls may indicate is a certain nervousness in Canberra about the new Government.
In part, that is because Winston Peters is probably the only Minister who is known at all in Australia.
And, in part, the presence of the Greens in the Government is bound to worry Australia with its strong bipartisan support for its continued membership of ANZUS and its general support for the US and its allies (like Japan) in the East Asian region.
There are other more obvious bilateral issues, particularly in trade.
But the new Trade Minister, David Parker, has yet to hear from his counterpart Steve Ciobo.
In the meantime, planning is progressing for Ardern to make a quick trip to Canberra to meet Turnbull.
That is expected to happen very soon.