New Zealand should embrace being best mates with Australia instead of seeking restrictions on those living here, Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee says.
The issue of Kiwis’ rights in Australia have been under the microscope after a series of changes this year for expats living in Australia.
Appearing before Parliament’s foreign affairs and trade committee for an annual hearing, Brownlee said Kiwis needed to be more aware about the benefits of the longstanding Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement between the two countries.
“Many New Zealanders, as you say, don’t know about it, probably take it for granted and I think it’s because we take it for granted that many New Zealanders have got into a position where we believe that they have equal citizenship rights in Australia to the ones they have here.”
However, Brownlee said an agreement between the country’s two prime ministers to talk more frequently about “matters of mutual interest” should lead to improvements, as seen in recent weeks where Australian ministers indicated they were focusing more on the impact of domestic policies on Kiwis.
“Over a period of time the commercial arrangements that exist between the two countries have become very harmonised and every effort is made to make things simple in that regard, but perhaps the people-to-people stuff has been a little neglected and we might be able to do more in that space.”
Brownlee said the Government had no plans for reciprocal restrictions on Australians living in New Zealand, and was keen for Kiwis to echo the findings of a recent Australian poll showing most think we are their best friends.
“It worries me sometimes that we get too antsy about Australians, but the reality is that whenever you are anywhere in the world, New Zealanders and Australians are together, they’re very good friends.”
Brownlee was also asked about the thorny topic of New Zealand co-sponsoring the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements which led to the country temporarily severing diplomatic ties.
While New Zealand and Israel are back on normal terms, there seems to be some uncertainty over the Government’s support for the resolution: English has said they stand by it, while Brownlee has been less categorical.
He still appeared lukewarm at the select committee, saying “the resolution is what it is”.
“We’re not backing away from the fact that it’s passed, but the resolution itself doesn't bring any progress to a peaceful and positive moving forward atmosphere in either Israel or Palestine.”
One of his main concerns was what he described as a lack of understanding about the two-state system amongst commentators.
“At various points there have been agreements about how it might look, but then the political shifts that inevitably occur in a democracy, or the power shifts that occur in a less democratised arrangement, have caused some problems to that progress.
“I do worry about the external pontificating on what a result should look like when in reality it has to be the countries that are most affected, the authorities that are most affected, who need to reach a conclusion on that.”
Green MP Kennedy Graham retorted: “With respect, the whole point of universal UN-oriented conflict resolution is that external people and interested parties do not officiate, they assist in conflict resolution. If you just leave it to the parties themselves, you’ll go for 100, 200, 300 [years].”
Climate change a concern
Climate change was also on the agenda, with Brownlee having just returned from a trip to the Pacific.
Labour MP Su’a William Sio asked him if he felt “a sense of urgency” about planning for what would happen to low-lying countries like Tokelau and Tuvalu.
Brownlee said he had spoken to the Tuvaluan prime minister during a recent visit to New Zealand and was aware of a range of plans, from Fiji taking some residents to countries buying land elsewhere and Tuvalu raising the level of its island over time.
“In the end, I think you’ve got to respect that people have a deep cultural commitment to a place, we certainly understand that in this country, and it’d be assisting them to stay in those places that I think is going to be most important.”
The choice of Fiji as chair for the next UN Convention on Climate Change conference would also “pull the whole world into a focus on the Pacific”, Brownlee said.
“That has to be a good thing, and I think having Fiji in the chair has been positive in that regard.
“When you say am I concerned, yes, I’m concerned for those people - who couldn’t be? But there’s no simple and easy fix, it requires a massive international effort to start arresting some of what are now manifesting as effects from climate change.”