Beyond the bubble, the PM could score political points by restoring trans-Tasman harmony and rekindling the CER spirit

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.

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