At last the trans-Tasman bubble is inflating. New Zealanders are so excited that few are bothering to question why it took so long and government ministers are pleased that the media furore is concealing its failure on several fronts, not least in the vaccination programme, which is proving to be one of the slowest among the world’s advanced economies.
That furore has also obscured the fact that Australia opened up to NZ six months ago.
Then there has been the wrestling match in Cabinet over just when the bubble should begin, with Jacinda Ardern applying the handbrake because of the risk that any outbreak, particularly with some of the newer variants, would put a blot on the government’s pandemic performance.
ACT’s David Seymour says
“Jacinda Ardern couldn’t treat us like lucky little prisoners any longer”.
Over a month ago Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was chiding Ardern about not wanting Australian tourists while the bubble negotiations dragged on.
Now he says the announcement is a “win win”, even if, as he adds, NZ “is late to the party”.
As it is, NZ will operate the bubble on a state-by-state basis with Australia, but it comes with a warning – “flyer beware”. A traffic light system lays out what New Zealanders could be expected to do if there’s an outbreak in Australia. A key one: don’t rely on the government to bail you out if you get stranded.
In a sense the trans-Tasman bubble is the first step reconnecting NZ to the world.
National’s Judith Collins says the government should now be setting out its roadmap for how it plans to safely reconnect NZ to the world.
“National believes the government should allow quarantine-free travel from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji into NZ, alongside our realm countries”.
Point of Order believes other lessons can be drawn from how NZ and Australia harmonised the procedures for a trans-Tasman bubble. It has underlined to a new generation that the two governments nearly 40 years ago signed the Closer Economic Relations pact which created free trade between the two countries and solidified the partnership which had been established on the battlefields in two World Wars.
The Anzac spirit, commemorated each year, had not carried over to the economic sphere where in trade, barriers existed through tariffs, quotas and all kinds of arcane rules until CER blew them away.
But even with CER, which resulted in two-way trade expanding almost exponentially, the new cordial spirit did not prevail in all spheres. Paul Keating killed off the idea of a single aviation market and more recently Australian governments have applied harsh rules in deporting New Zealanders convicted of criminal offences in Australia.
The founders of CER who had hoped to see it broadened into other spheres like taxation, and embracing Pacific neighbours, have been disappointed. And although the Prime Ministers have annual meetings there has been a discernible coolness between Canberra and Wellington from time to time, not least because the defence establishment in Canberra thinks Wellington does not pull its weight as its closest ally.
Then there are NZ ministers like Labour’s Damien O’Connor who put their foot in it by urging Australia to show more “respect” in its dealings with China. That’s not quite how the Aussies see the Anzac spirit.
So can the harmony of the Covid post-pandemic era be a model for a new era in trans-Tasman relations? A meeting soon between Morrison and Ardern could be the launching pad.
This could be the real test for Ardern if she is to cement her reputation as one of the outstanding leaders through the pandemic.