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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard touched down on what was believed to be her first official visit to Queenstown yesterday to a barrage of questions from more than 20 New Zealand and Australian journalists on the Australian sports doping scandal.
She descended from a Royal Australian Air Force 737 to be greeted by Prime Minister John Key and his wife, Bronagh, with a friendly welcome kiss.
Ms Gillard shook hands with Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Vanessa van Uden and stopped to admire the Remarkables and surrounding scenery with the Keys before being whisked off to the Hilton Queenstown.
Security was tight at the airport and the prime ministerial entourage parked on the tarmac consisted of a dozen vehicles.
Dressed in a smart slate grey dress and off-white cropped jacket, Ms Gillard marched straight into a posse of waiting Australasian media at the Hilton to face some tough questions about the Australian sports doping scandal, which she said she found "pretty sickening", asylum seekers, Australia's minerals resource rent tax and the lack of privileges afforded to New Zealanders living in Australia.
Ms Gillard remained adamant Australia offered generous entitlements to Kiwis living in Australia, not offered to any other nationality in the world.
She said she looked forward to discussing the Joint Productivity Commission's report into strengthening economic relations between Australia and New Zealand as part of her 30-year-anniversary CER talks with Mr Key in Queenstown this weekend.
Mr Key said Queenstown was chosen for the talks because it was beautiful and a great place to showcase to Ms Gillard.
"One point one million Australian visitors come to New Zealand each year and an awful lot of those come to Queenstown. The place was booming over Christmas and a lot of those people had Australian accents," he said.
Planning for the 2014 Cricket World Cup would also make the agenda during this weekend's talks. Mr Key said there would be no specific announcement about whether matches were likely to be hosted by Queenstown or any other venue, but both governments wanted to offer "a world class experience" to those travelling to watch the games.
The prime ministers will lay wreaths at the Queenstown War Memorial this afternoon to pay their respects with the centenary of Gallipoli fast approaching.
The Southland Times