Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has arrived in Queenstown, declaring that expanding the trans-Tasman bubble into the Pacific is a “real possibility”
“And here we are, two countries, some 18 months later that have weathered the Covid, arguably better than any other two countries in the world.”
The trans-Tasman bubble will be on the agenda, with Morrison telling reporters “the idea of a bubble that goes beyond New Zealand and Australia is a real possibility”.
“Fiji is is going through a difficult time at the moment and we’re supporting them to come through that, but whether it’s Vanuatu, or the Solomon Islands or Fiji or Tonga, or any of these places, and even supporting up in Timor Leste.
“Now, these are real challenges to overcome, but when it comes to people coming to work in Australia, the seasonal workers programme…or the broader partnership that we have across the Pacific for other purposes – this is why we get together every year.”
He was also asked by an Australian reporter if part of the reason for his trip was because “New Zealand’s soft approach to China is splintering our relationship”.
It was a regular, annual meeting between Australia and New Zealand, Morrison replied.
“And we work through the issues that are part of that very successful partnership, particularly whether it’s the economic partnership or the security partnership, and we work closely on all of those issues.”
This was “another opportunity to reinforce our commitment to the security interests of the region and security interests of our bilateral partnership and to advance our economic cooperation for our mutual prosperity and for jobs”, he said.
Ngāi Tahu welcomed Morrison, his wife, Jenny, and the delegation to Queenstown with a powhiri, including a reo version of the Australian classic Waltzing Matilda, and the traditional jokes about pavlova and winning on the sports field.
At a Skyline event, Ardern and Morrison made some broad remarks about their tight friendship and their contrasting approaches to Covid-19.
Tomorrow is the big day, with official negotiations and a lot on the schedule to talk about.
China and rising regional tensions, as well as long-standing trans-Tasman concerns such as deportation policy and the road to citizenship for New Zealanders in Australia, loom big.