Look­ing for some trans-Tas­man chem­istry

The Press - - News-politics - TRACY WATKINS

Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull should be able to hit the ground run­ning when he meets Bill English for the first time in Queen­stown.

Turn­bull and for­mer prime min­is­ter John Key got to­gether for a meal in Syd­ney last week­end and it would be a sur­prise if Key hadn’t of­fered up some in­sights on his suc­ces­sor, Key’s one-time deputy and right­hand man.

Key and Turn­bull struck up an im­me­di­ate trans-Tas­man bro­mance when they met - Turn­bull openly ad­mired Key’s record in gov­ern­ment and made it no se­cret he wanted to em­u­late his eco­nomic achieve­ments.

When Key last trav­elled to Aus­tralia for the an­nual transTas­man lead­ers get-to­gether he and wife Bron­agh even stayed overnight at Turn­bull’s Syd­ney man­sion - which saw their meet­ing la­belled ‘‘py­jama diplo­macy’’.

Whether there will be the same chem­istry be­tween English and Turn­bull is the big un­known.

The pair have been get­ting to know each other by phone ahead of to­day’s meet­ing in Queen­stown but it will be over din­ner late tonight when the re­la­tion­ship­build­ing truly be­gins.

Dur­ing the ear­lier more for­mal part of their talks the Christchurch fires will prob­a­bly be first up for dis­cus­sion Aus­tralia has al­ready of­fered help and Turn­bull and English will likely dis­cuss what’s needed.

But the lead­ers will also dis­cuss the vac­uum in world trade talks af­ter United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pulled Amer­ica out of the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, and re­gional se­cu­rity.

English will be sound­ing Turn­bull out on ways to keep the TPP alive - in­clud­ing by reach­ing out to China to take Amer­ica’s place as an eco­nomic su­per power.

That would make the deal at­trac­tive again to the likes of Ja­pan, and could kick-start ef­forts to save it.

But Aus­tralia’s first pri­or­ity will be pro­tect­ing its own long stand­ing free trade agree­ment with the US - the Trump ef­fect means that even the diplo­mat­i­cally un­think­able is now pos­si­ble and with Trump threat­en­ing to tear up other long stand­ing trade deals noth­ing would seem safe.

But it’s the old peren­nial - the rights of Kiwi ex­pats across the Tas­man - that will res­onate loud­est here. A deal of­fer­ing a path­way to Aus­tralian cit­i­zen­ship for some ex­pats is due to come into ef­fect in July and the Australians have been work­ing on ‘‘de­sign’’ changes, the scale of which are yet to be re­vealed. Any changes wa­ter­ing down the en­ti­tle­ments agreed last year would be a diplo­matic kick in the face for English in his new role as in­ter­na­tional states­man.

It was the strength of the chem­istry be­tween Key and Turn­bull that got the cit­i­zen­ship ‘‘amnesty’’ across the line in 2016.

The amnesty was struck dur­ing a round ta­ble be­tween Aus­tralian and New Zealand gov­ern­ment min­is­ters in Syd­ney. But it was Key and Turn­bull who drove it through.

It’s a demon­stra­tion of how the power of per­sonal chem­istry still counts - which is why the Aussie PM pack­ing his py­ja­mas is a good omen.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.