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Source: New Zealand Government

It’s my pleasure to be in Sydney today for our annual meeting, Prime Minister.

It’s fair to say that since we last met, tragedy and disaster have befallen our two countries.

They say that in moments of that nature, the true character of an individual comes to the fore.

I believe the same can be said of nations too.

Australia has proven once again to be the closest of friends to us. The eruption of Whakaari/White Island had a devastating impact, and you lost your own in that tragedy.

And yet Prime Minister, you could not have been more supportive.

From the offer of specialist staff, the collaboration on incredibly complex medivac operations, right through to the mere fact that those Australian families who lost loved ones still had the heart and extraordinary kindness to send letters back to New Zealand acknowledging the people who had touched them in Whakatane, and that Aotearoa will always be connected to them.

I acknowledge too that this tragedy occurred in the back drop of your own, as Australia battled bushfires of such devastating intensity. 

New Zealanders were devastated by the scale of what they saw your country experience. There was an incredible desire to help, and during this bushfire season we have contributed 276 firefighting personnel, two emergency management personnel and a number of defence assets, including 139 personnel. As we watched the smoke reach our shores, it only furthered our desire to do everything we could to support Australia, and my message today is that we are only a phone call away – quite literally as PM Morrison and I showed in a recent press conference that he inadvertently dialled into.

But these are only recent illustrations of the way we are connected, and the ways we work together.  And Prime Minister we discussed many other ways today.

Whether it’s work in the Pacific on climate related issues, boosting the circular economy and improving waste management, coordination and support of one another as we tackle covid-19, our ongoing commitment to make it easier for our businesses to transact with one another – including e-invoicing which is now operational and estimated to save the trans-Tasman economy $30 billion, biosecurity detection or the indigenous collaboration arrangements we signed today.

Each of these initiatives is grounded in that history we have, and that friendship that we value.

But friendships aren’t just reaffirmed in times of tragedy, they must stand up to the test of politics. And in the face of politics, the New Zealand and Australia relationship is being tested.

We appreciate that many kiwis have taken up the opportunity to live and work in Australia – many more than has happened in reverse. Not every kiwi migrant will be perfect, but evidence shows that the vast majority are providing a net benefit to Australia. They earn more, are more likely to be employed and pay more tax than their Aussie-born counterparts – they are Australia’s best migrants. But rather than them being given security to keep contributing, in return their rights have been eroded.

Simple rights, like assistance from the national disability insurance scheme – even though they pay into the scheme’s levy. Or the ability to join the defence force, or become a federal civil servant. Kiwis want to contribute to the place that is now their home. But they’re not being given the potential to do that to the fullest.

Separate again is the issue of deportations. Australia is well within its rights to deport individuals who break your laws. New Zealand does the same. But we have a simple request. Send back kiwis, genuine kiwis – do not deport your people, and your problems.

I have heard countless cases of individuals who, on any common sense test, identify as Australians.

Just a few weeks ago I met a women who moved to Australia not much older than 1 year old. She told me that she had no connection to our country, but she had three children in Australia. She was in a crisis centre, having returned to a country she did not feel was her own. I have heard from those who work in our judiciary that they are seeing cases before our courts of individuals who are failing attempts to reintegrate and rehabilitate because the success of these programs is reliant on at least some network. These deportees have none.

I am not asking that Australia stops this policy- you have deported more than 2000 individuals and amongst them will be genuine kiwis who do have to learn the consequences of their actions. But amongst those 2000 are individuals who were too young to become criminals on our watch. They were too young to become patched gang members. Too young to be organised criminals. We will own our people. We ask that Australia stop exporting theirs.

I want to conclude by just reaffirming something I have said often before – we will continue to maintain rights for Australians in New Zealand. We do not wish to have a race to the bottom and we remain confident that by continuing to work together, we will find solutions that reaffirm just how important this relationship is to us.

Finally again PM Morrison, thank you for the chance again today to discuss the issues that are important to each of us. I have no other leader that I can confidently work so closely together with – and that has proven so important in our darkest of hours.

May we look forward to better times ahead.

MIL OSI