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Should New Zealand and Australia share their ocean

There would be tremendous environmental and economic benefits to Australia and New Zealand if both countries were to co-operate and jointly manage their ocean estates.

Peter Cozens, from Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies, says there are potentially huge economic benefits in jointly managing the antipodean ocean and points out an Australian study which estimates the annual value of Australia's activity from its maritime territory by 2020 at between $50 and $85 billion.

He says the proximity of the two countries Exclusive Economic Zones and the fact that we already share a common boundary at some places in the Tasman Sea, means there is a certain fuzziness in drawing a physical distinction between the two countries.

Writing in the latest issue of Victoria Economic Commentaries, Cozens' says a maritime boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand would be difficult to delineate for any practical purpose.

"Nautical boundaries by their very nature are difficult to define practically, the turbulence of the sea and the swirling waters makes it very difficult to draw a meaningful distinction between one side of an imaginary line or another."

There are quite clearly questions of sovereignty that need to be carefully determined, but, for all practical purposes is there any advantage in making a management distinction between the two countries economic zones and were they meet, he says.

Cozen says we need to ask whether we should jointly manage the two nations' Exclusive Economic Zones as a whole. Boundary delimitation of New Zealand's claims have to be lodged with the United Nations by August 2006 and he believes we will have to come to some agreement with Australia over a common boundary in the Tasman Sea.

"We need to ask the question of what benefits there could be to Australia and New Zealand of a common management approach to the two separate economic zones."

New Zealand and Australia have the fourth and fifth largest Exclusive Economic Zones respectively and can potentially lay claim to huge but as yet indeterminate areas of continental shelf. "Because of the proximity of our ocean territories we already collaborate for mutual benefit on many issues, but there are many other issues including the security of our maritime territories in which we could both receive further benefits."

Cozen believes the economic opportunities of the ocean have the potential to change the structure of our relationships with our neighbours and the world at large.

"It's becoming increasingly evident that our Exclusive Economic Zone and our Continental Shelf offer unknown benefits and opportunities, including gas, mineral deposits, fish and potential medical benefits resulting from unlocking the genetic make up of the many creatures living there".

The issues of protecting the oceans, defending our territories and protecting our borders from the illegal movement of goods and people are of concern to both countries. "Agendas of parochial self-interest usually inhibit and obscure the development of the public good and this could be the case in producing a new code of maritime stewardship to govern the use of our common oceanic resources".

"Would it not be more sensible for Australia and New Zealand to co-operate to draw up an Australasian Oceans Policy? Surely there is scope for both countries to protect our joint interests and co-operate in protecting some of the most valuable, tempestuous and remote waters in the world. There is, after all, an ecological, economic and strategic necessity to do so", he says.

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