Address at Reception for UK PM Rt Hon Tony Blair
Tuesday 28 March 2006
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Reception in Honour of Rt Hon Tony Blair,
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and
150th Anniversary of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce
Tuesday 28 March 2006
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rt Hon Tony Blair, and Mrs Cherie Blair to New Zealand.
I am also pleased that this official function in honour of Mr and Mrs Blair marks the 150th anniversary of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, as trade links with Britain have played a huge part in the economic history of New Zealand.
Prime Minister, the modern nation of New Zealand has its origin in the Treaty of Waitangi signed between Queen Victoria’s representative, Governor Hobson, and many of New Zealand’s Maori tribes in 1840.
From that time a unique nation has developed in this country in which British people and their descendants have played a major role.
New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and rule of law are heavily derived from British precedent, and to this day we share a head of state, Her Majesty the Queen.
For not far short of a century, Britain was New Zealand’s dominant trade partner. Its importance as a market for us peaked in the 1930s when ninety per cent of all our exports went to Britain, and even around the time of Britain’s EU entry around a third of our exports still went there.
Indeed at that time Britain worked hard for as good a deal as possible for New Zealand in the EEC market, because, as Britain’s chief negotiator said at the time, “New Zealand was small, because she was far away, because of her support in war…… for these and many other reasons the way the Community would treat her had become a touchstone for millions of ordinary people, of their attitude towards our entry”.
In those few words, one senses the depth of the relationship between New Zealand and Britain. New Zealand had stood alongside Britain in two World Wars, South Africa, Malaya, and in other international engagements too. The governmental, economic, and family links were very strong.
Now in the early years of the 21st century, Britain is well integrated into the European Union and its North Atlantic networks. New Zealand’s regional interests see us embedded in the architecture of the Asia Pacific.
Yet we continue to value the strong bonds of our heritage and our shared values, and our economic and people to people links remain very strong.
Britain is our fifth biggest trade partner, and the third largest source of foreign investment in New Zealand. It is our second largest source of tourists, and the single largest source of permanent and long term migrants to New Zealand. This suggests that strong ties with Britain are not just a feature of our past, but will be very much a feature of our future too.
New Zealand will on Armistice Day this year be dedicating a Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, in London. It will serve as a focus of remembrance of shared sacrifice between New Zealand and the United Kingdom and be a permanent reminder of our special relationship.
Prime Minister, I have very much valued our friendship over many years, going back to when we were Leaders of the Opposition in our respective countries, and seeking to lead our Labour Parties back to government.
Over the years we’ve discussed many issues in domestic and foreign policies. On many, we’ve taken similar approaches; on a very few we haven’t. Throughout our time in government, our diplomats, defence personnel, and many other officials have maintained very strong collaborative relationships. That includes in defence, where Britain continues to offer many training opportunities, and where we work alongside Britain in Bosnia and in Afghanistan to this day. Our military engineers in Iraq were also well supported by their British counterparts.
All these factors make Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Leader of one of New Zealand’s oldest and closest friends a very welcome guest in New Zealand. I look forward to the talks we will have tomorrow and to the ongoing strong relationship I know our country will enjoy with yours. Thank you for accepting our invitation to visit, and welcome to New Zealand.