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Insights 26: 21 July 2023
NZ Herald: Roger Partridge on why politics should operate on facts, not false narratives
Podcast: James Kierstead, Michael Johnston and John Raine on the changing landscape of higher education
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich on Hipkins' challenging start and his rocky road to the October election

A Groundhog Day of Trans-Tasman relations
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Meetings of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF) are a regular fixture in the calendars of Australian and New Zealand business leaders and politicians. But their content has also become regular – which is to say, repetitive.

As a frequent attendee over the past decade, this week’s gathering in Wellington had a certain Groundhog Day feel to me.

Year after year, ANZLF delegates gather in the spirit of our two countries’ Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement. CER was a groundbreaking free trade agreement when it was signed in 1983. Even today, it is regarded as one of the best such agreements in the world.

Yet, as pathbreaking as CER was 40 years ago, today we find ourselves circling the same minor issues every single year. These are the few bits and pieces of unfinished business which would lift the Australia-New Zealand relationship from good to great.

One of them is the simplification of Trans-Tasman travel.

Why can a flight from Sydney to Auckland not be as seamless as a domestic flight on either side of the Tasman?

Important biosecurity issues can be managed with modern technology. Integrated IT systems should allow luggage to be scanned on just one side of the Tasman, namely at departure.

Yet, there we were again this week, at another ANZLF meeting, discussing the same issue with no tangible progress. It felt like 2014, 2016 or 2022. I have lost count of the number of occasions on which we have been told that integrated travel across the Tasman is just around the corner.

The Schengen Agreement among European countries stands as a beacon of what is possible. It is hard to fathom why Australia and New Zealand, with our shared history and robust relationship, cannot emulate this.

There was a time when passport-free travel between our countries was the norm. A return to such simplicity, coupled with a free travel zone with joint tourist visas, could even boost regional tourism.

The spirit of innovation and cooperation that led to the signing of the CER seems to have waned. If we cannot make granular improvements like simplifying Trans-Tasman travel, one must question where that spirit has gone.

We can only hope that, at the next ANZLF, we can celebrate progress rather than rehashing the same discussions.

After all, even Groundhog Day eventually ended with a change. It is high time we scripted a new chapter in our CER story.

Sweden steals Ukraine’s show
Benjamin Macintyre | Research Assistant |
Last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius was supposed to be about Ukraine’s needs and whether they would be met. Zelenskiy wanted guarantees for future NATO membership and the military alliance wanted to present a united front to Putin.
In a surprise twist, the real winner of the summit was Sweden.
Zelenskiy and Ukraine would leave relatively empty handed. They got a re-confirmation of their eventual ascension to membership but without a set timeline or series of required steps.
Nobody expects Ukraine to join whilst they are still at war, but the purposeful vagueness of the summit’s communique clearly was not what Ukraine was hoping for.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad news. Ukraine did get further security commitments and assurances from NATO allies, including the US’s unwavering support. Still, this was less than what Zelenskiy wanted.
NATO, for its part, essentially got what it came for. It was able to portray itself as a united and unwavering ally of Ukraine without actually committing to doing anything new.
So why was Sweden the winner?
For those out of the loop, Sweden – along with its neighbour, Finland – has long maintained a strategic military neutrality. History and geographical location (between the West and Russia) were the main drivers of this position.
However, in the wake of increased Russian aggression, both swung towards the West and declared they wanted to join NATO last year. Whilst Finland’s ascension was straightforward, Sweden’s was held back due to Turkey’s power of veto.
Turkey believed that Sweden was harboring a Kurdish terrorist cell which threatened Turkey’s security. So Turkey blocked Swedish membership until it felt that their grievances were addressed.
The stalemate was not expected to be resolved for some time. Yet, Turkey declared during the summit that it would back Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
There are concessions, of course. Sweden agreed to expand its counter-terrorism initiatives against potential Kurdish cells and to resume selling arms to Turkey.
Regardless, this Turkish U-turn represents an unexpected and welcome result for Sweden. What was expected to take years of negotiating and posturing was swiftly resolved over the course of one summit. Imminent Swedish membership of NATO is now all but guaranteed.
It is perhaps the only substantial change to the current uneasy status quo to emerge from Vilnius. With Ukraine leaving frustrated and the alliance’s commitments broadly unchanged, it is Sweden that exits the summit with the widest grin.

Pothole Paradise
Dr Matthew Birchall | Research Fellow |
New Zealand’s roads are in the political headlights, as opposing camps clash over the delicate balance between road safety and road efficiency – think of it as the policy equivalent of Ford vs Holden.

Advocates of greater efficiency point out that potholes have turned our state highway network into a lunar landscape, a phenomenon I had the opportunity to acquaint myself intimately with during a road trip to Gisborne over Matariki.

They argue that a dedicated pothole fund would help get New Zealand back on track – or at least back in the right lane.

However, not everyone is sold on the idea. Even my local Beaurepairs salesman, well-versed in car-maintenance, expressed scepticism about the efficacy of a pothole fund when I handed over my credit card details on Monday morning. He promised to see me soon.

Others have a more philosophical objection to the pothole fund. These safety enthusiasts argue that what Kiwis really need are more expensive speed bumps, cooler ad campaigns and median barriers that tower like modern marvels. After all, nothing says “safety first” like a barrier that doubles as a landmark.

I have a better policy solution to help us combat the safety and efficiency conundrum. Why don’t we let the potholes act as natural speedbumps?

Picture this: a pothole paradise where potholes become unexpected allies in curbing speeding and getting greater mileage out of the Land Transport Fund. Instead of spending a fortune on traditional speed bumps, we can embrace these chassis-rattling pits as a cost-effective alternative.

The beauty of this idea lies in its simplicity. As drivers encounter potholes, their instinctive reaction will be to slow down, creating a natural deterrent to excessive speeding at a fraction of the cost. In turn, that will free up Waka Kotahi to focus on the things that really matter, such as roundabouts adorned with artistic sculptures and pedestrian crossings inspired by our unique flora and fauna.

And just think of the climate benefits! By embracing potholes and making driving a less pleasurable experience, we can incentivise people to explore alternatives like public transport.

Critics might argue that this unconventional approach would damage our vehicles. But with careful placement, we can ensure a smoother ride while encouraging responsible driving habits.

Potholes are not the problem that politicians have made them out to be – they’re the solution to our land transport dilemma.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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