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Parliamentary luncheon for Australian PM

Mon, 21 Feb 2005

Parliamentary luncheon for Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Rt Hon Helen Clark

The visit by John Howard gives us a chance to focus on those issues which are of special relevance to our countries as close neighbours and longstanding friends.

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

The occasion of John 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.

I should like to start by congratulating John on an historic achievement. In December last year, he passed Bob Hawke's record to become Australia's second longest serving Prime Minister. This milestone was passed after John won his fourth consecutive election victory, a considerable achievement on which we also congratulate him today.

New Zealand's relationship with Australia is the most extensive and important we have with any country. It is sustained by strong government, economic, defence, and many other official links, as well as by family ties.

At the moment our two economies are among the fastest growing in the OECD. Australia is still enjoying the longest run of uninterrupted growth since the Second World War. New Zealand's economy is humming along, at 4.6 percent growth in the year to September.

One of the key consequences - and now drivers - of this growth is that unemployment in both countries is down to record low levels. In New Zealand, we are especially proud that we now have, at 3.6 per cent, the lowest rate in the developed world.

The economic benefits of CER continue to serve both countries well. That is why we are determined to build on it. It was good to have Treasurer Peter Costello in town last week. He is working closely with Michael Cullen on progressing the single economic market, to make it even easier for individuals and companies to do business across the Tasman. Competition policy, joint accounting standards, mutual recognition for securities offerings, and banking supervision are among the issues being tackled.

In our talks yesterday and today, John Howard and I, and the Cabinet, have covered issues related to our economic, defence, and scientific relationships; we've shared ideas on boosting productivity and savings and on social security reform; and we've discussed developments in our region and further afield.

In the area of trade our countries are pursuing jointly and in parallel a range of trade initiatives in Asia.

· Australia's FTA with Thailand is now in force - ours takes effect from 1 July.

· Australia has a trade and economic framework agreement with China - New Zealand has started FTA negotiations with China.

· Both of us have been engaged in FTA studies with Malaysia.

· And together we have secured agreement with ASEAN for an FTA with our CER economies.

The forces of nature have also led us to work together in South East Asia in recent weeks, to provide immediate relief after the tsunami.

The ANZAC medical facility at Banda Aceh has been a joint effort and much needed.

I applaud also Australia's great generosity to relief and reconstruction in Indonesia - and the very positive impact that will have on Indonesia's ability to recover quickly from the tsunami.

Elsewhere in the region, Australia and New Zealand continue to be closely involved in the regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands, and in stepping up our support for development and better governance in the Pacific and for more regional co-operation.

The strong relationship between New Zealand and Australia is underpinned by the strong family ties between us. More than 400,000 New Zealanders are living in Australia, around 60,000 Australians live here. Those links undoubtedly contribute to the 1¼ million trips across the Tasman by our two peoples each year.

Our ability to enter, visit, live and work in each other's country under the Trans Tasman Travel Arrangement, with the minimum of bureaucratic obstacles, also underpins our strong economic and trading ties.

This is by no means one-way traffic. Indeed the number of Australians migrating to New Zealand is now at its highest level since 1978.

After lunch, John Howard and I will visit the National War Memorial in Wellington. This will be the first visit by the leader of another country to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. It is entirely appropriate that the first leader to visit should be the Prime Minister of Australia.

Our ties of military service in other countries go back well over a century. Together we have made considerable sacrifices to build a better world. That work continues today in circumstances which can be difficult and dangerous. In this context, we shared the pain of the family of Australian Federal police officer Adam Dunning, who was tragically murdered late last year while serving in the Solomon Islands.

In closing, I should like to reiterate what I have often said before: that the Prime Minister of Australia is always welcome in New Zealand. We value our friends and John Howard is an especially good friend of New Zealand.

I hope we will be able to welcome John and Janette back to New Zealand in the not too distant future. For now, we thank you for your visit, wish you both a safe journey home, and wish Australia and Australians prosperity and happiness in the years ahead.

ENDS

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