A couple of true-blue trans-Tasman cobbers

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014

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OPINION: A trans-Tasman romance appears to be blossoming following John Key's second trip across the Tasman to meet up with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott.

Admittedly, Mr Key left Australia with little to trumpet in the way of progress on the thorny expat question, or the Buy Australia campaign shutting out Kiwi exporters.

But the group of senior ministers who travelled over with him left the two-day round of meetings quietly pleased with progress on a range of fronts which - while less headline grabbing, such as mutual recognition of imputation credits - were important.

Mr Abbott did not hold back, meanwhile, from expressing his admiration of Mr Key or his government's reforms. Addressing a 600-strong business audience, Mr Abbott lavished so much praise on Mr Key he should have been blushing - brother, friend, soulmate, mentor and an inspiration were to name a few of his glowing tributes.

Mr Abbott made it clear his government would be emulating much of what the Key Government had been doing over the past five years to get Australia's books back in order.

Having known little of each other before Mr Abbott's election win, the two men have quickly established a good working relationship, and regularly text each other.

On the surface, they would appear to have little in common. Mr Abbott is a former monk turned journalist, a boxer, volunteer surf lifesaver and firefighter, while Mr Key is a former money man whose main form of relaxation is golf, a game Abbott is said to have little interest in.

Even Mr Key acknowledges their differences: "He's more Right-wing than me; he can surf a lot better than I can; he's deeply religious and I'm not; he's a Rhodes scholar and I wasn't." But the pair share a mentor - former Australian prime minister John Howard, whom Mr Key has long admired - and a shared philosophy and belief in Conservative government.

When Mr Key arrived in Sydney on Thursday, he and Mr Abbott met over dinner with a handful of their closest advisers and discussed political strategy.

In the past, dinner with Mr Abbott's predecessor, Julia Gillard, would have included her partner Tim and Mr Key's wife Bronagh, and would probably have been a more down-to-earth affair, given the rapport between Mr Key and Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard's warmth toward Mr Key was also replicated in her warmth toward the trans-Tasman relationship. It was Ms Gillard who drove through the concession on student loans for the children of long-time Kiwi expats that was reconfirmed at the Abbott-Key presser on Friday.

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Mr Abbott had been more of an unknown quantity on the trans-Tasman relationship up until last week's visit. His warm praise of Mr Key aside, it would be easy to assume his heart wasn't in it given the short shrift he gave the vexed expat issue and the supermarket spat. But in the current climate across the Tasman, Mr Abbott was never going to make concessions that would seem to give New Zealanders a boost over Australians in terms of jobs or welfare. And Mr Abbott's gestures in other areas speak volumes - such as his willingness to share the table with New Zealand at the upcoming G20.

He has even taken to labelling the gathering of 20 of the world's most powerful leaders the G21, in recognition of his invitation to New Zealand to take part. That suggests the goodwill shown by Ms Gillard, and before her Mr Howard, remains intact.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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