Australia’s election, thrusting the ALP and its leader Anthony Albanese back into a governing role, offers the Ardern government a fresh opportunity to blow the cobwebs off the Anzac partnership.
During the last years of the Liberal era, the once-strong Trans-Tasman relationship appeared to cool. Australia’s deportation policy under the notorious 501 provision of its immigration law has become a sore point and the Liberal government under Scott Morrison planned to increase the flow of Kiwi deportees, much to Wellington’s chagrin.
Australia and NZ share similar goals in trade and defence, but these, too, need a fresh polish. The world during the Covid era has been changing rapidly, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a deep tension in global relationships.
China – in signing a pact with the Solomon Islands that will enable it to establish a base in that territory – has shaken both NZ and Australia out of their Pacific complacency.
In the John Key era, the Trans-Tasman relationship had a warm glow to it, even when the ALP had command in Canberra. There was never any doubt that Australia and NZ marched in lockstep on issues of mutual interest.
But under the Ardern government — and because of Covid without the regular ministerial personal contacts — there has been a visible slackening in Trans-Tasman ties.
NZ now has a chance to seize the initiative and pump renewed vigour into the Anzac relationship.
Whether it will do so is uncertain. Certainly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade whose head, Chris Seed, had a long stint in Canberra will have plenty of advice to offer on that front.
The ACT party appears sceptical that the Ardern government will infuse the Anzac partnership with what is needed.
Its foreign affairs spokesperson Brooke van Velden, said ACT “hopes” Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta will use this opportunity to reset New Zealand’s ANZAC relationship.
“The world is changing and New Zealand needs to stick with our traditional allies and ensure that our defence capabilities are significantly improved.We’ve already been left out of AUKUS and the technology cooperation included in that deal”.
She said that with a new Australian Government, NZ needs to see this as an opportunity to strengthen ties with Australia and show a united front.
“China now has a foothold in the Pacific. Labour agrees that the world is changing but it doesn’t know what to do and it’s too busy wasting money on poorly targeted spending.
“ACT says we should follow the NATO target and methodology. It would see $7.5 billion in extra capital expenditure over the next four years on Defence.
“ACT has committed two per cent of GDP for Defence expenditure, focusing heavily on capital investment so that we have the capability to defend ourselves and send a message to our allies and to those less friendly that we are here to stand up for liberal democracy.
“The target of two per cent of GDP is what all of our traditional allies, including Australia, are committed to and would demonstrate the seriousness with which we take our defence obligations”.
ACT argues this is the kind of valuable spending that government should be doing, protecting NZ and aligning it with allies.
“It’s time for Jacinda and Nanaia to take our relationship with Australia far more seriously and following the Australian election is the perfect time to start.”
The Prime Minister, of course, has a business visit planned to the US this week and the Deputy Prime Minister is preoccupied with post-budget issues—but they should be attaching the line “when can we meet?” in their congratulatory messages to their new counterparts in Canberra.