Clark Address to Australian Parliamentary Luncheon
WEDNESDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2006
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Wednesday 8 February 2006
Prime Minister John Howard and ministers.
Leader of the
Opposition Kim Beazley,
President of the Senate,
Speaker of the House,
Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
ladies and gentlemen.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their warm welcome today.
This is the fourth time I have come to Australia for the annual bilateral talks at Prime Ministerial level - and I have had the privilege of hosting Prime Minister John Howard three times in the alternate years.
I believe the annual talks at this level give leadership to the huge range of ministerial and other official contacts and work programmes which are ongoing between our countries.
The relationship between New Zealand and Australia is as close a relationship as can be found anywhere in the world between countries, and it’s important that it works well at all levels – as indeed it does.
The result is that there are very few issues that grate at the bilateral level, and, rather, a willingness to look forward to how deepening the co-operation we already enjoy would be of benefit to us both.
This is very evident in the economic area, where our free trade agreement of 23 years standing has enabled both of us, in effect, to enlarge our domestic markets – New Zealand five-fold, and Australia by adding broadly the equivalent of another eastern seaboard state.
CER, our Closer Economic Relationship, is one of the most comprehensive free trade agreements in the world, and has been from the outset.
We continue to enhance it – only last week the announcement that negotiations on new Rules of Origin had been completed was made.
New Zealand is interested in exploring the possibility of adding an investment chapter – and we are working to see that one of the very few remaining trade access issues, over apples, will be resolved on a scientific basis, and proportionality of risk mitigation.
Meantime both our governments have looked beyond CER to the development of a Single Economic Market, with the goal of enabling seamless business activity across our borders.
A big work programme is seeing progress made on banking supervision, mutual recognition of security offerings, and trans-Tasman accounting standards. This year we expect to see more progress on business law alignment and harmonisation.
I should add that New Zealand has had a good economic run these past six years, with growth averaging around 3.8 per cent. Our unemployment currently stands at 3.4 per cent, the lowest in the western world, and we have labour shortages.
Like Australia, we are presently in a slower part of the business cycle, with a high dollar having impacted on our ability to export profitably and on our current account and terms of trade.
Our medium term focus is on stepping up our economic transformation agenda to develop a higher value and more innovative and productive economy.
I see a lot of synergy in the broader economic agendas between our two countries, as we both strive to maintain competitiveness and prosperity in the global economy.
Indeed, there is a lot of policy dialogue overall, as we seek the best ways to upskill our workforces, deliver quality timely heath care, and open up work opportunities for long term beneficiaries.
A very positive development has been the Australia-New Zealand School of Government, which brings together public servants from both countries in public policy and management degree courses, and develops networks which will strengthen policy dialogue in future.
A strong focus of our talks today has been on our co-operation and common interests in our region and further afield.
In the Pacific we have worked together and with our neighbours to bring stability to the Solomon Islands.
We’ve both put a lot of effort into the development of the far reaching Pacific Plan to improve the Pacific’s prospects for development.
Both our countries were pleased to be represented at the inaugural East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur last December, and have an interest in how that initiative contributes to building an East Asian Community.
We have a complementary network of free trade agreements and negotiations in East Asia – and can count ourselves fortunate to be positioned in the world’s most dynamic economic zone.
But trade does not occur in a vacuum – it must be underpinned by many other linkages and an effort to understand each other.
Next month, New Zealand will join with the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia as a co-sponsor of the regional inter-faith dialogue in Cebu. We have a conviction that faith communities need to be talking to each other, not past each other. Unfortunately there has been too much of the latter in the recent cartoon controversy.
In these few brief words I have scarcely scratched the surface of the many shared interests and values, which bind New Zealand and Australia.
Our history has been one of co-operation across many fields. We feel at home in each other’s countries. We are part of a common community of values. Of course there is rivalry, not least on the sports field, and of course we have our differences from time to time – but they are rivalry and differences within the family, and that’s as it should be.
In concluding, I would like to wish the people and governments of Australia and the State of Victoria all the best for next month’s Commonwealth Games. The Sydney Olympics brought great pride to our part of the world, and I am sure that Melbourne too will host a wonderful event.
Thank you once again, Prime Minister, for hosting me today.