Gillard addresses NZ Parliament

04:03, Feb 16 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, bringing to an end her visit to Wellington.

The joint ceremony with Prime Minister John Key was the last official engagement of her visit to New Zealand.

She returns to Australia tonight after a two-day trip that has firmly cemented the strong relationship between the two countries.

The ceremony was deeply symbolic as the two countries forged the links during World War I.

It also came after the news that another Kiwi soldier had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

Earlier today, in an a historic moment, Gillard addressed members of the New Zealand Parliament.

Speaker Lockwood Smith described the speech as a "significant occasion" in our history and said Gillard was "the first leader of a foreign state to address members in this debating chamber".

Gillard told Parliament she was privileged to receive the honour and was also mindful that it had been some time since an Australian leader had been to New Zealand on a full bilateral visit.

She did not want "familiarity to slide into forgetfulness" and for that reason she and Mr Key had agreed to restore the pattern of regular prime ministerial exchanges under previous administrations.

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In a wide ranging speech, Gillard announced a joint study by both countries, commencing next month, to investigate how to create "a truly domestic-like aviation experience" for travel between Australia and New Zealand.

And she drew applause when she announced that Australia would accept the verdict of the world "umpire", the World Trade Organisation, on the importation of New Zealand apples into Australia.

But her speech dwelt mostly on the bonds between the two countries and the Anzac spirit cultivated by two world wars and a freedom from deference and formality "that makes Australians and New Zealanders so much like each other".

Gillard spoke of present-day war heroes on both sides of the Tasman, including VC winner Willie Apiata, and paid tribute to the men and women of both countries armed forces including those serving in Afghanistan.

She spoke of the death of the 22nd Australian to die in combat in Afghanistan, whose funeral she attended last month, and noted that New Zealand had not been spared the anguish of casualties in the Afghan theatre, including the "terrible news" of another sad loss of a New Zealand life today.

"We grieve for these men and these families as we grieve for our own. Because the New Zealand story speaks for both our nations."

INVESTMENT THRESHOLDS LIFTED

Investors looking to do deals across the Tasman will now find it easier after the thresholds were lifted today.

As expected Key and Gillard today signed the new investment protocols under the Closer Economic Relations agreement.

Key said Australia was an "indispensable ally" and friend, he said. The two governments were working on furthering CER.

For New Zealanders looking to invest in Australia the investment threshold that attracts overseas investment office scrutiny will rise from $A231 million to $A1 billion. For Australian investors in New Zealand the threshold will rise from $100m to $477m.

Key said New Zealand businesses would gain advantage through the new investment protocols. There will be New Zealand companies who take advantage of the increased threshold.

"We are stronger because of the ability to invest in each others economy." However, foreign investment always has detractors, Key acknowledged.

Gillard said the signing of the investment protocol was a "big step forward" in closer relations between the two countries.

She said they would accept the World Trade Organisations ruling on New Zealand apple exports to Australia.

"The umpire has now spoken, we will abide by the decision, we believe in free trade."

Gillard yesterday set an ambitious goal for achieving an expanded Pacific region free trade zone by the end of the year. A fresh round of negotiations on the trans-Pacific Partnership got underway in Chile this week.

But the investment protocol has run into opposition including from Labour, which ways it will open the door to Australia buying up more New Zealand assets.

SOLDIER MOURNED

The two leaders also expressed their condolences for the loss of Private Mila.

"It's a tragic day for his family and for New Zealand," Key said. He said his death was the result of an accident and New Zealand was committed to seeing their work through in Afghanistan.

"I think we honour his death by insuring that we do every thing we can in the case of Bamiyan."

Gillard said progress was being made in Afghanistan.

"We expect there to be hard days ahead, today is a hard day for New Zealand and we expect there to be hard days ahead," Gillard said.

CONTROVERSY

The refusal of the Green party to allow Gillard permission to speak during a sitting session of Parliament has sparked controversy on both sides of the Tasman.

In Australia, one commentator referred to the antipodean Greens as the "rudest on the planet" but Ms Gillard brushed off the controversy yesterday.

She was "honoured" to give the address.

This morning an air force band greeted her at Parliament with the song Pokarekare Ana and the Australian national anthem.

Earlier, she was a guest at the first official function at newly renovated Government House.

Governor General Anand Satyanand welcomed her, apologising that the house did not feel lived in yet.

'BORDERLESS' TRAVEL

Travel between Australia and New Zealand could eventually become "borderless", Gillard said.

"We've got this aim of travel between the two countries feeling like travel between two Australian states," she told Radio New Zealand this morning.

"We've already made improvements with SmartGate and want to keep making further improvements so there is that sense of borderless travel between the two nations," she said.

Gillard said Key was in agreement that the two countries would keep making travel easier for people on both sides of the ditch.

Key yesterday said the introduction of Smartgate had been effective, but seemed to shy away from borderless travel, saying he could not say whether both countries would eventually move to create a passport-free zone.

"It's also possible we may continue to employ modern technological advancements to alleviate that issue."

COMMON CURRENCY DOUBT

Gillard has baulked at the idea of a common currency being introduced.

"There is much more to do before talking about that," she said.

Gillard will today sign a new investment protocol with New Zealand, a step she said will bring the two countries even closer together.

"This isn't a new vision. It's the next step of a vision that's been thirty years in the making, she said.

- With Kirsty Johnston

Stuff