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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7765

Mr SLIPPER (FisherDeputy Speaker) (13:24): I personally consider Australia and New Zealand for most purposes to effectively be one country. I think it is an aberration of history that we are in fact not. New Zealand opted not to become part of the Australian Federation prior to 1901. We all know that prior to the time when the Australian colonies became a nation, New Zealand was for a very long time part of those procedures. The then Premier of New Zealand said there were 1,200 reasons why New Zealand would not become part of the Australian Federation but that he wished the colonies that were entering Federation all the best. Those 1,200 reasons, of course, were the 1,200 miles across the Tasman—across the ditch, as people say. I think that everyone would agree, though, that continental Australia and New Zealand can boast one of the best relationships in an international sense.

I hesitate to talk about an international relationship and I very strongly support the position that was taken by the former Prime Minister, now Minister for Foreign Affairs, and by Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand, that we ought to have a common border between Australia on this side of the Tasman and New Zealand on the other. Unfortunately that has not yet been achieved, but I believe that the closer economic relationship ought to be advanced substan­tially so that we are able to attain something like a joint market across the Tasman. While I understand the concerns of the member for Murray in relation to the products from her electorate, I think it is vital to recognise that Australasia is in fact an entity and if there is a problem on one side of the Tasman then those on the other side of the Tasman should join in attempting to solve it.

In the last parliament where the Howard government was in office, I was Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. We had a reference from the then minister, the member for Berowra, to look at harmonisation of laws within Australia and between Australia and New Zealand. Our committee made a whole series of recomm­endations, some of which were accepted by the government and some of which were not, which could have led to levels of greater integration, from possibly becoming one country through to a confederation through to sharing a telecommunications market and maybe having a common currency through to a whole range of issues. There are many levels of integration short of New Zealand becoming part of Australia.

I support this bill. I think it is a very positive step. Australia and New Zealand share so many things, including a love of freedom and honour for our countries—a fact borne out by the Anzac legend. We exchange students, we exchange tourists, we share a love of sports like rugby union, cricket and even rugby league and we share some legal frameworks and business relations. We even joke about each other, and if there is one thing that is an indicator of friendship and respect it is being able to share a good-hearted joke at each other's expense.

I was on Q+A New Zealand about 12 months ago and at that time there was a situation where the New Zealand public in a fairly substantial number had suggested that ultimately they saw New Zealand becoming part of the Commonwealth of Australia. On that program were Don McKinnon, Phil Goff and a number of other people. There was discussion in relation to the way forward. I do not believe that New Zealand should be forced into a relationship with Australia which reduces New Zealand to a state. There are many levels of integration short of that, which I think is something we want to achieve. When one looks at what the EU has been able to attain, given the history of Europe, particularly in the 20th century, surely it should be so much easier for the Australian states and New Zealand to be able to come to some suitable accommodation. It really is not a matter at issue in this parliament that we need a closer relationship with New Zealand. This bill is a very positive step forward, though I believe it is simply an incremental step forward and that there is very much a greater distance to travel. We are similar people with similar values and we get on very well together. Put differently, we are the same people, some of whom happen to carry a New Zealand passport and others of whom carry an Australian passport. When one looks at the natural tragedies we have had on this side of the Tasman and the support we got from New Zealand, and similarly with the earthquakes in New Zealand and the support that came from this side of the Tasman, the suggestion that we are two separate count­ries, while legally accurate, is one which does not, in the mind, I think, convince many people. Most Australians would consider New Zealanders to be kith and kin, and the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is not really an international relationship; it is a domestic regional relationship and one that we ought to encourage.

This bill modifies the Customs Act 1901 to bring in changes to the rules of origin provisions, which are outlined in the key trade agreement between our two nations, the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement. The changes afforded by this bill today result from a review and amendments to the trade agreement in 2007, when it was agreed that a further review would be conducted three years later, in 2010. These changes are mostly technical in nature, inserting and amending definitions and making clarific­ations. The changes will improve the efficient running of the agreement.

The need for such modifications is a positive symptom of a document that is getting good use. The agreement is nearing 30 years old and needs to be tweaked from time to time. To be honest, it is probably regrettable that Australia and New Zealand have not moved further. Thirty years ago this was a land-breaking agreement, but many other countries have been able to come to other agreements and they have bypassed us because we simply have not been prepared to grasp the nettle and move forward as we should.

The changes in this bill include inserting definitions for the terms 'aquaculture', 'manufacture' and 'produce' as well as amending the provisions dealing with 'wholly obtained goods' and also amending the provisions that deal with eligibility of the last process of manufacture. For example, the previous version of the agreement included aquaculture as an eligible activity but it did not include an actual definition of aquaculture, so that is an anomaly which the provisions of this bill will address. Further, this bill modifies the definition of 'manufacture' to also include activities that may not have previously come under the banner of manufacturing, such as restoration or renovation processes. The definition for 'produce' is modified to remove the refer­ences to 'disassemble', substituting it with the terms 'restore or renovate'. This is relevant in that, under the definition of 'produce', goods needed to be entirely produced in New Zealand from materials sourced in New Zealand or Australia. However, in previous versions of the agreement, items that were disassembled and/or reassembled in New Zealand could slip through and inadvertently be labelled as 'Made in New Zealand', which was inaccurate. This has sensibly been changed—a change that will bring integrity to the agreement with respect to making New Zealand and Australian goods.

While I support this bill, I think the necessity for this bill indicates that we still have a long way to go. The fact that we are talking about this bill indicates that, as two nations, we have failed the challenge of bringing our economies together. We have failed the challenge of putting aside the fact that there might be 1,200 miles between the former British colony in Australia and the former British colony in New Zealand. The fact that we are in a sense wasting so much bureaucratic time on talking about these matters, as though we are perpetually going to be two separate countries, I think is eminently regrettable.

It is incumbent on governments on both sides of the Tasman to accept a challenge that was made by former Prime Minister Rudd in talking about an ever-closer relationship between New Zealand and the Australian states. We share a history, we share geography, we share destiny and we share values. While this bill is worthy of support, much more has to be done.