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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 209

Senator MASON(6.07) —I wish to enter this debate on closer economic relations between Australia and New Zealand briefly since I think I may be one of very few members of this Parliament who are New Zealanders by birth. As a result I am very interested in the success of the closer economic relations agreement. I recall discussing it a couple of years ago in Wellington with the Minister for Trade, who at the time was Mr Ian Templeton. The point that arose strongly in that discussion was that the agreement should be one to co-operate, not to compete. That point needs to be made now again strongly. The point is that much of the criticism of CER in Australia has been by sectional interests who quite properly feel that their prices are being undercut by cheaper New Zealand products. People are saying: `Why should we have this agreement with New Zealand when it operates to the disadvantage of some Australian industries, especially primary industries?'. Indeed, it is of great significance that the report that it is now before the Senate begins with those words:

Since 1 January 1983 CER has received a mixed reaction from within the Australian rural sector.

That of course is putting it mildly. Why do we have this and why should we be going on with it? That is a matter I wish to address briefly. Part of the answer is that as the two nations of European origin in a remote corner of the world our survival may well depend at some stage on co-operation. In fact, I say here and now that I would be in favour of eventual unity between Australia and New Zealand as one nation. We should be considering this as time goes on.

We should remember that Auckland and Wellington are a lot closer to us than Perth and that the Tasman Sea does not present any more formidable barrier than does the Nullarbor, even in terms of surface travel. It is a fact that the Australian Constitution provides for New Zealand's inclusion if that position ever came to be negotiated between the two communities. That may lie a long way ahead and there may be opposition to it, but I believe that it will come closer with the passage of time. I am one of those people who believe that we should progress in an orderly way towards that objective of making New Zealand and Australia one nation, and the CER agreement is a step in that direction.

I opposed here the introduction of passports between Australia and New Zealand, although I know there are good reasons for it. I felt that the overriding consideration is the close commonality between the two nations. In fact, there are very few families in this country who cannot say that somewhere or other in the last few generations they have had people who lived in New Zealand, or vice versa. I do not think there are any other two countries in the world which have closer relationships of that kind. I object strongly to people who try to breakdown that relationship which has been enshrined in the word ANZAC, among other things.

The second part of the rationale for CER is that of course New Zealand produces some things better than we can and we produce some things better than it can. While the short term effects of that might not be palatable to some sectors in both countries, especially in the rural industry, it is vital that we co-operate in such things. New Zealand because of its climate can produce very high quality dairy products very cheaply. In some aspects of fruit growing and soft wood timber production it has strong natural advantages. Is it sensible for us to say that we have to take a blind, protectionist view towards these things, or is it more rational to say that there is no reason why the Australian consumer should not benefit from such things, provided-and I stress this-that the process is reciprocal and that New Zealand gives Australia favoured nation treatment in importing, especially in areas of manufacture where the size of our market, our facilities and again our natural resources make it more feasible for us to be the supplier? I was struck by what Senator Chipp said earlier today when he was talking about the New Zealand industry which produces methanol and petrol from natural gas. Mr Deputy President, if you have a look at those factories you will find that the New Zealanders and their architects have gone to great trouble to put up reinforced concrete girdering and so on because it is cheaper and easier for them to use reinforced concrete than steel. However, to put it mildly, steel would have been a much better way of doing it. That is the sort of area of co-operation that this agreement should be working at. It was admitted to me by the people who actually did the building that it would have been better to have it in steel.

Senator Lewis —But it is all one way. That is the problem.

Senator MASON —If it is all one way, Senator, that is something you ought to be working on rather than just beefing about the thing and saying that it is all a nuisance.

I will tell the honourable senators about one area of manufacture which is very important and very feasible for us to operate in that regard. When I was in New Zealand last year I discussed some matters with the Defence Minister there, Mr Frank O'Flynn. Mr O'Flynn agreed that if Australia made defence equipment-and we should be making more of our own defence equipment; we should be building our own aircraft, as my colleague Senator Norm Sanders would agree; and we should be building our own trainer and things of that kind-he would give me an undertaking, which he said the New Zealand Government would give to any Australian government, that New Zealand would look very hard at buying her needs from us under the CER agreement. This was not necessarily only because it has to operate both ways, as Senator Lewis has said- this is a way in which it could operate both ways-but because in the strategic interests of both countries there is much to be gained by a commonality of material and weapons. There are many other areas of manufacture where we can operate more economically and efficiently to the benefit of both communities. I would have thought that that was what we should be doing under the CER agreement.

I am deeply concerned that there is this sub-current of pure protectionist interest which says that this agreement between two friendly neighbouring countries is to be shot down and destroyed or somehow torn apart because of short term sectional interests. I cannot accept that. With all respect to the Committee, the thing that the CER is about or should be about is co-operation between the two countries in the best interests of the two communities concerned. I cannot give the weight that the Committee does in this report to the development of third country markets. I agree that everybody wants third country markets. It would be tremendous if we could sell things elsewhere, and the more the better, but that is not basically what CER is about. I suggest that it is a red herring to say that that is the direction in which CER should go.