As expected, Ardern warmly welcomed the new Australian government’s commitment to stronger climate action, which she placed in the context of needing to elevate the voices of Pacific Island nations.
“New Zealand is heartened [by that] … because it is good for our region and good for the world when we work collaboratively on this extraordinary challenge,” she said.
“The Pacific region has listed climate change as its number one threat. And that is not out of symbolism, that is out of the reality that right now we already see the considerable effects of coastal erosion, of severe weather events and of displacement in our backyard.”
China received only a fleeting mention, despite the recent flurry of diplomatic activity by both Australia and NZ to head off Beijing’s security overtures to Pacific Island nations, though there were plenty of references to security challenges in “the region”.
Asked if NZ should seek to join the Quad (which brings together India, Japan, Australia and the United States) or the AUKUS defence pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US, Ardern sidestepped, saying what she wanted to see was “an increasing elevation of the Pacific Island voice within our region”.
Other “arrangements” were welcome, she said, as long as they “follow the values which we hold dear, are transparent and have at their core peace and stability”.
Albanese said there were no proposals to expand the Quad but “that doesn’t mean our friends and allies can’t have input through that process”. The two leaders will meet again, alongside key ministers and business representatives, at the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum in Sydney next month.
The pair also discussed labour mobility and skills transfer as well as what Albanese described as a potentially “easier” pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders.
Lowy Institute executive director Dr Michael Fullilove said the meeting was notable as for the first time in 15 years, the relationship was being conducted by Labor prime ministers on both sides of the Tasman.
“I think you are seeing the start of more strategic convergence between Wellington and Canberra,” he said.
“Ardern was quite forward-leaning in her [recent] discussions with [US] President [Joe] Biden in Washington in relation to China. That led to a rebuke from Beijing … At the same time, I think Ardern will have noticed the premium that the new government in Canberra has put on relations with the Pacific in a very short period of time.”
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