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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2534

Mr SLIPPER (5:00 PM) —While the honourable member who has just concluded his speech on the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and the Trans-Tasman Proceedings (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2009 is correct when he suggests that Australia and New Zealand are two countries which have a long and close relationship, it is undeniably true that there is much more that could be done. This legislation, however, is a step in the right direction, but it is a step that goes nowhere near far enough. In the last parliament I was Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. We had a reference from the then Attorney, the member for Berowra, with respect to harmonisation of the laws among the Australian states and between Australia and New Zealand. We brought forward a number of recommendations in our unanimous report which suggested that the two countries ought to cooperate in many more areas than we currently do, including, for instance, a joint currency, a joint telecommunications market and many other changes which would integrate the legal systems of Australia and New Zealand much more substantially. I am pleased to see the Attorney in the chamber, because he gave the government response to the committee’s report—which, I must say, did not go quite as far as the then committee wanted. However, I do thank the Attorney for very seriously considering the matters put forward by the committee.

Only yesterday, Sunday, I had a very early start because I was on Q and A New Zealand with the opposition leader, Mr Goff, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Sir Don McKinnon—he is a former New Zealand minister—and former Prime Minister Mike Moore. There had been a recent survey in New Zealand and Australia on whether New Zealand should become Australia’s seventh state. What was interesting about the survey was that, while a majority of New Zealanders clearly were against that proposition, some 41 per cent thought it was a topic worth talking about and approximately 25 per cent thought that it was actually a good idea. I put the point on the program that it was a very emotive question that was put to those people polled and what would have been better would have been to ask a question as to whether the respondents supported a higher degree of integration, harmonisation and alignment between the systems of Australia and New Zealand. In other words, we should concentrate on what is achievable or ‘doable’—not that that is a word—and we should focus on those things we can actually bring about. Sir Don McKinnon said that he felt it was inevitable that in a couple of generations New Zealand would become Australia’s seventh state. But there is a range of possibilities with respect to closer integration, from the situation which was envisaged in the Australian Constitution—namely, that New Zealand should be one of the originating Australasian colonies federating in 1901 to form the Commonwealth of Australia—through to any other form of integration.

If you look at the countries of the European Union you will see that many of those countries spent most of the 20th century fighting one another, yet they have a level of integration which is much higher than the level of integration we have—to use a New Zealand expression—across the ditch. If the countries of Europe are able to achieve a single currency, why on earth can’t Australia and New Zealand, given the fact that we have a shared culture, a shared legal system, shared values, a shared geography, and I believe a shared future, have a joint currency? When Dr Cullen, a former New Zealand minister, actually suggested that, our then Treasurer, the former member for Higgins, rather unhelpfully, responded by saying that New Zealand was free to adopt the Australian dollar. I think a former Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration wrote a paper suggesting that Australia should adopt the American dollar as a currency, but I suspect that suggestion would not get strong support throughout the community.

But there is no doubt that on both sides of the Tasman we pay an extraordinarily high price for unnecessary differences or a lack of harmonisation in the systems of law and government in Australia and New Zealand. For instance, in the area of telecommunications I am told that mobile phone calls are extraordinarily expensive in New Zealand. A simple solution would be to allow all Australian telecommunications companies to operate in New Zealand and for all New Zealand telecommunications companies to operate in Australia. Clearly, the consumer would be the beneficiary. We could also look at the possibility of a joint tax system and maybe a joint defence force. In fact, Prime Minister John Key and our Prime Minister last year enunciated that, within 12 months, their aim was to have a single border, namely, that people passing through immigration in Australia or New Zealand would not have to go through immigration once they crossed the Tasman. It was estimated that if that reform came in that would slice a third off the cost of trans-Tasman airfares. Mind you, looking at the websites at the present time, I see that airfares are fairly cheap as they are. But, clearly having to go through Customs, having to go through passport control (a) takes time and (b) costs money.

We also have a ridiculous situation in Australia where, if a person has an enduring power of attorney signed by a person at Coolangatta and he or she has to move into a nursing home at Tweed Heads, the enduring power of attorney dies at the border. Similarly, across the Tasman an enduring power of attorney is of no force and effect. So there are so many areas where we would be able to improve cooperation and harmonisation. That is why I am very pleased to support the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and cognate bill, because it is one small step in harmonising laws across the Tasman. I think that is very good, but I believe that we can go a lot further. For instance, if we had a single banking system, instead of Australian banks being required by New Zealand authorities to set up subsidiaries in New Zealand. That would clearly cut the cost of banking. Most of the banks in New Zealand are owned by Australian banks, anyway, so why should they not be able to operate across the Tasman in a way that would minimise costs for business? I think it is something that we ought to look at as well.

While I certainly commend the Attorney on the bills before the chamber, I do believe that these are only small incremental steps—and I am not suggesting that the Attorney himself would stand up and claim that this is a panacea for everything—and we can only achieve things step by step. The legislation before the chamber is worthy of support, but it is only one step in the direction in which we ought to be travelling. I very strongly support the principle of a single border, a single currency, a joint telecommunications market and I support a joint legal system. I would even like to have some set-up whereby the courts of New Zealand could be integrated with the courts of Australia and we could cross-vest jurisdiction. I think that would be important, but that clearly would be a little more complicated than the measures currently before the House.

In fact, the member for Dobell, who spoke previously, mentioned how we cooperate with New Zealand in trying to return democracy to Fiji and in so many other ways. We would clearly be able to shave costs, achieve better outcomes and better equip our military personnel if perhaps we had a joint military force between Australia and New Zealand. After all, the countries of the European Union are talking about some sort of creation of that nature. Again, it should be so much easier for those of us in Australia and New Zealand who, in fact, have so much more in common. I do not think it is necessary for Australia to become the west island, in addition to the current North Island and South Island, and it will not be necessary for the All Blacks to don Wallaby colours. Mr Deputy Speaker Washer, as you come from Western Australia you may not understand that the All Blacks are the national rugby team of New Zealand and the Wallabies are the national rugby team of Australia. I am not intending to reflect on you as a Deputy Speaker. But the thing is, I suspect, that what often stops greater degrees of integration are these fears, on the part of New Zealand in particular, of being gobbled up and of the loss of what they see as being essential elements of the New Zealand culture.

If we could create one market across the Tasman and if Australian companies were to get better access to New Zealand and vice versa, then obviously costs would be reduced, employment would be generated and there would be more prosperity. Of course, the advantage with respect to these matters would often be more in favour of New Zealand because they are gaining access to a much larger market. But it is only a greater advantage by degree, because the advantage to Australia in gaining greater access, access of a domestic nature to the New Zealand economy,. would in fact also benefit our companies.

Having said that, I commend the Attorney-General. I know that he is waiting to sum up, so I ought not to use all of the 20 minutes allocated to me. These bills, the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and the Trans-Tasman Proceedings (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2009, are very important bills before the chamber but they are only steps in the right direction. They are good steps, but I want to encourage the Attorney-General to accelerate this process, because all of us will be beneficiaries if he is successful in that aim.