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PM's Address to State Luncheon for John Howard

Address to State Luncheon for Australian Prime Minister Hon John Howard

It is my pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Australia, Hon John Howard, and Mrs Howard to this official luncheon at Parliament today.

The occasion of Mr Howard's visit is the annual bilateral meeting between the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia. While we meet regularly at international gatherings, this annual meeting gives us a chance to focus on those issues which are of special relevance to our countries as close neighbours and longstanding friends.

This year's meeting also marks an important anniversary of an important treaty between us. Twenty years ago this month our countries signed the agreement for our closer economic relationship.

This year, 2003, is also the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of high commissions in each other's capitals.

These two anniversaries remind us of the strength of the relationship between our two countries, sustained by strong government, economic, and defence links, and by many family ties.

Since my first attendance at these prime ministerial meetings, many new issues have come on our agenda for discussion. People smuggling and transnational crime, counter terrorism co-operation, crises in Commonwealth member countries like Fiji and Zimbabwe, and the current crisis over Iraq have all required our time and attention.

On most such issues we find common cause. On some our approaches differ. But what doesn't change, and I hope never will, is our ability to talk freely and frankly as longtime friends do.

On 11 September 2001, New Zealanders and Australians, like citizens of many countries, had their lives shattered by the terrorist attacks in the United States.

Then, on 12 October, terrorism came much closer to home for Australia with the horror of the Bali bombings. New Zealanders mourned Australia's losses as if they were our own. We too lost three citizens in that attack.

We are living in a new destabilised era, where the major threat to the security of our peoples comes not from other states, but from transnational terrorists who range freely across borders to perpetrate violence. This gives a fresh significance to our close relations with Australia and other friends as we share information and build our capacity to protect ourselves.

Right now our two trans Tasman economies are star performers in the OECD. We have both experienced good levels of growth while others have stumbled. Australia's success matters to us as it is the largest market for our goods. A dynamic and prosperous New Zealand economy also matters to Australia, as we are its fifth largest market, and its second after the United States for elaborately transformed manufactures.

The next phase of CER will see us work to harmonise our business law and regulatory frameworks. Our competition and takeovers law is now more closely aligned. We can work together to reduce costs through a common approach to insolvency, accounting standards, and securities trading law.

On the trade front, our rules of origin agreement with Australia now looks a little dated. The current review of rules of origin being undertaken by the Australian Productivity Commission is of great interest to New Zealand, and we will be making a submission to it.

Australia will shortly begin formal negotiations with the United States on a free trade agreement. We wish Australia well with its talks, believing that in time that will help pave the way for New Zealand to also enter negotiations. Meantime New Zealand and Australia will continue to work closely together on opening up markets through the WTO's Doha Round, and at APEC.

In conclusion, can I say that the Prime Minister of Australia is always welcome in New Zealand. Differences of opinion from time to time cannot detract from a relationship which spans three centuries and has seen us share so much in good times and bad. Hon John Howard in particular has been a good friend to New Zealand.

I hope that we will be able to welcome Mr and Mrs Howard back to New Zealand again in August for the annual meeting of the Pacific Island Forum to be held in Auckland. We wish you now a safe journey home and we wish Australia and Australians security and prosperity in the years ahead.

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