Shaw is focused on climate change but Mahuta (with many more Anzac issues to consider) puts indigenous peoples first

International activities, one way or another, have influenced several ministerial announcements over the weekend.

The best news was that our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, at long last had left the country to engage in the work of being a Minister of Foreign Affairs on foreign soil. She met with Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains for the biannual Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations.

Obviously there was much to talk about (which would have taken the Minister’s mind off Three Waters reform).  The statement mentions:

  • Strategic challenges in the Indo-Pacific, the preservation of “the liberal international order” to underpin stability and prosperity in the region and foster a sustainable regional balance where all countries – large and small – can freely pursue their legitimate interests.
  • Their strong support for open, rules-based trade based on market principles.
  • The role of the Pacific Islands Forum in projecting a strong and unified Pacific voice on the global stage.
  • Their commitment to ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the importance of regional partnerships to stability, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and the role of AUKUS in this network.
  •  Their commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Continue reading “Shaw is focused on climate change but Mahuta (with many more Anzac issues to consider) puts indigenous peoples first”

Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific

Australia is to buy the mobile phone networks of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu from Digicel Group based in Jamaica. Telstra Corp, the country’s biggest telecom operator, will pay $US1.6 billion for the deal backed by $US1.3 billion from the Government’s export finance agency.

Commentators describe this as a significant strategic move to block another potential buyer – China.  Three years ago, Canberra announced it would build an undersea high-speed internet cable to the Solomon Islands, shutting out China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from the project. Australia had earlier banned Huawei from involvement in its own 5G mobile network.

The purchase sits alongside underwater cables Australia has with its Pacific partners.

The Wall Street Journal quotes John Lee, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, saying,

“It’s ensuring that a potential adversarial power doesn’t own infrastructure which would impact on not just Australia’s communications capabilities, but also its military capabilities. Underwater warfare is increasingly important and these cables are directly relevant to that.” Continue reading “Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific”

Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom

Australia’s defense and foreign affairs ministers have begun a four-nation tour to press economic and security relationships within the Asia-Pacific region as tensions rise with China.

Peter Dutton and Marise Payne are visiting Indonesia, India and South Korea and will  end their travels in the United States.  In Washington DC they hope to conclude a raft of major defence and strategic agreements, including the provision of new missile technology.

This raises the question of New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Peeni Henare, and his handling of those sorts of issues.  Apart from issuing the occasional media statement, he seems to be missing in action.

True, he does have other portfolios – Minister of Whanau Ora and associate minister of Health, Housing and Tourism.  Beehive insiders say he seems to pay little attention to the Defence portfolio.

As with his mentor, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, he is said to be reluctant to travel.  This  seems at odds with the demands of both portfolios because each of them requires a network of personal contacts, which is impossible to sustain by Zoom. Continue reading “Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom”

UK-NZ free trade agreement looks likely to replicate Aussie deal, although Brits will be driving a hard bargain

With trade minister Damien O’Connor due in the northern hemisphere in September, London’s Daily Telegraph reports a free trade agreement between the UK and NZ is close.

Citing sources in the UK Department of international Trade, the newspaper says hopes are growing that a deal can be secured “within weeks.”  An announcement on New Zealand before the end of August is “highly possible” as discussions intensify.

 Australia’s agreement with the UK was settled in June.  The UK Government hopes to get it signed off by Boris Johnson and his counterpart Scott Morrison when the latter visits Britain in October for the Cop26 climate conference.

The Daily Telegraph’s source said trade secretary Liz Truss would be driving a hard bargain on key areas of interest.

“New Zealand will need to give us more on services, mobility and investment if they want a deal. If we have to go beyond then into September to get the best deal, then so be it.”

Any agreement  is likely to take a similar shape to Australia’s, which proposes a widespread liberalisation including staged removals of tariff quotas on agricultural exports which has drawn criticism from British farmers.

The Telegraph says the NZ FTA is expected to have a negligible effect on the UK’s GDP, with modelling by the trade department even indicating that an extensive deal could mildly reduce Britain’s national output.

Recent events have provided a potentially awkward backdrop for what may be the final weeks of talks.  Amazon last week announced that it would shift production of its highly anticipated Lord of the Rings TV series from New Zealand to the UK, in a major blow to the country’s creative and tourism industries, the paper said.

Oh, look – we can’t find any mention of “ISIS” in PM’s press statement on bringing woman and her children back from Turkey

The Turks don’t want her, after she crossed the border into that country from Syria.

The Aussies don’t want her, even though her family moved to Australia when she was six and she grew up there before departing for Syria in 2014 on an Australian passport. They cancelled her citizenship.

But she had dual citizenship and – we are told – New Zealand is unable to remove citizenship from a person and leave them stateless.

Unable?  Or morally disinclined to leave them stateless?

And would a government less committed to wellbeing and kindliness make the same decision?

Never mind.  In the upshot, the decision has been made and the woman and her family will be coming to live in this country.

Should we be worried?

The word “ISIS” did not appear in the PM’s press statement,  which was blandly headed Cabinet accepts Turkish authorities’ request for the managed return of three NZ citizens.

Nor was the woman named.   Continue reading “Oh, look – we can’t find any mention of “ISIS” in PM’s press statement on bringing woman and her children back from Turkey”

Money is tight for some things on Ardern’s watch – her Defence Minister has signalled a fiscal assault on military spending

Labour  Defence  Minister  Peeni Henare  has  signalled the  government  is  planning  to  trim   the defence  budget.  He says Covid-19 means the Budget is now much tighter and defence will look different under Labour than it did under its coalition with NZ First.   

This  comes as  Australia, New Zealand’s primary ally,  is pursuing a defence strategy aimed at countering the rise of China, while warning that Australia faces regional challenges on a scale not seen since World War II.  

Australia is  re-equipping  its  armed  forces  with a  10-year  budget  of  $A270m. But  for NZ, the  planned $20bn outlay on  new defence equipment  is the latest Covid-19 casualty, with a range of options to scale it down now before the finance minister.

The major investment in a range of new military hardware and upgrade was announced by former Defence Minister and NZ First MP Ron Mark in 2019 .

Henare says that when he got the job last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “was quite clear that she wanted Labour, us, to put our fingerprint on defence”, but what that looks like would be influenced by Covid-19. Continue reading “Money is tight for some things on Ardern’s watch – her Defence Minister has signalled a fiscal assault on military spending”

Here’s hoping Damien O’Connor can strike a trade deal with the UK on terms similar to those secured by the Aussies

We have had the chance to scan the new Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade agreement and – if Trade Minister Damien O’Connor can negotiate similar terms for us – the prospects look hearteningly good for NZ.

Beef and sheep meat tariffs on Australian exports to the UK will be eliminated after 10 years. Sugar tariffs will be removed after eight years, and dairy tariffs after five years.

Short and medium grain milled rice will get immediate duty-free access once the FTA is in place.

During the countdown to tariff-free trade, Australian producers will gain incremental access to the British market.  Beef producers gain immediate access to a duty-free quota of 35,000 tonnes (rising to 110,000 tonnes a  year in a decade).  With sugar exports, producers have immediate access to a duty-free quota of 80,000 tonnes, rising by 20,000 tonnes each year.

Dairy farmers will also have access during the transition period to a duty-free quota for cheese of 24,000 tonnes. This will rise to 48,000 tonnes by year five. Continue reading “Here’s hoping Damien O’Connor can strike a trade deal with the UK on terms similar to those secured by the Aussies”

The Aussies are aiming for economic growth but the Ardern Govt (clucking about wellbeing) seems to prefer Zombification

Is the  reality  of the  Ardern  government’s  policies   beginning  to  hit  home?  A slow, tentative  return  to  what might be regarded  as pre-Covid   normality  is  coming  into  sharper   focus as  government  fumbling, particularly  over the Covid  vaccination rollout, stirs  anger in  communities.

Just  as  Finance  Minister Grant  Robertson  extols the performance  of  the  economy  under his  stewardship, Kiwis are waking up  to  how  much better Australians  are  doing. We  shrank by 1% in  the  last  quarter of 2020 while  Australia grew by 3%.

The  international tourism  industry,  which pre-Covid had become NZ’s top foreign exchange earner,  is  virtually dead, and the  absence  of  international students  is  dealing  a  body blow to educational  institutions, even  down  to  primary  schools.

Even  more  concerning are ominous signs that things may  get  worse. A  headline  this  week pointed  to  the fact  that exporters  can no longer make forward freight bookings between Australia and NZ as international shipping companies abandon the relatively remote and marginal trans-Tasman routes in favour of profitable routes between China, Europe and the United States. Continue reading “The Aussies are aiming for economic growth but the Ardern Govt (clucking about wellbeing) seems to prefer Zombification”

Govt invests $16m in space venture with Ngai Tahu runanga – while protecting culture and biodiversity for good measure

The Government has invested $16 million in buying plots of land as part of a new partnership with Ngai Tahu, this one launched to take part in this country’s fledgling space industry.

It was described as “an exciting multi-pronged aerospace project” and – Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods proclaimed – it is coming to Kaitōrete Spit, a 25km stretch of land on the Canterbury coast.

It’s thanks to “a special commercial joint venture” between Kaitōrete Limited (Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga) and the Crown,

“ …  which will unlock jobs – including aerospace, develop a space launch and R&D facilities, protect cultural interests and the unique bio-diversity of the area.”

But wait.  There’s more:

“Project Tāwhaki is a special partnership with both Rūnanga that will rejuvenate a nationally unique environment, honour deep cultural relationships, and provide amazing opportunities to tap into the multi-billion-dollar aerospace economy. This is a very exciting day.”

We trust this venture fares better in winning the hearts and minds of local Maori than Rocket Lab has done at Māhia Peninsula in the Hawke’s Bay. Continue reading “Govt invests $16m in space venture with Ngai Tahu runanga – while protecting culture and biodiversity for good measure”

China, CER, co-operation and Covid-19 will be on the agenda when Anzac leaders meet in Queenstown

Scott Morrison  may  be  looking for a  break  after a  tough year  when he arrives in Queenstown at  the weekend,  but there’s  a  heavy  agenda  awaiting him.  It’s time  for Australia  and  NZ  to  rekindle  the  spirit  of  CER,  as  they battle the  aftermath  of the Covid pandemic, and  confront an  increasingly assertive global  power  in  China.

The visit will be the first face-to-face meeting between Ardern and her Australian counterpart since NZ shut its borders due to the pandemic. Morrison last met with Ardern in Sydney in late-February 2020, the day the first Covid-19 case was discovered in NZ.

Ardern,  announcing the  visit, said the Covid-19 recovery, regional and security issues would be discussed.  Those  issues  have  become  more  acute.

On  one  side  there  is  growing evidence that  the  pandemic  arose  not  from transmission  from animals  in  Wuhan, but  from a state-owned laboratory  in that  city.

On  another front,  both  countries  are  making  only  slow progress  with their  vaccination  programmes  (which opens  up  the  issue:  why didn’t  the two  governments  co-operate   in setting  up  a joint programme  to  produce  under  licence  one or  more  of the vaccines?). Continue reading “China, CER, co-operation and Covid-19 will be on the agenda when Anzac leaders meet in Queenstown”