We don't know how lucky we are, mate

Last updated 09:09 09/02/2014
Tony Abbott, John Key
TRACY WATKINS
LEADERS MEET: Tony Abbott and John Key.

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OPINION: If there's anything Prime Minister John Key learned from his annual trip across the ditch to meet his Australian counterpart, it's that there are no free lunches on offer for New Zealand.

Indeed, the only takeaway Key got from his meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a grudging agreement to uphold a previously announced deal made between Abbott's predecessor, Julia Gillard, and Key to allow some children of Kiwi expatriates resident in Australia to access its student loans scheme.

Even then, the agreement was heavily weighted in favour of Australia: only the children of Kiwi migrants who have resided across the Tasman for a minimum of 10 years will be eligible.

In New Zealand, any Australian citizen resident here for three years is eligible to access our loans scheme.

Key got nowhere on the other long-term gripes of unfair treatment for New Zealanders, who pay taxes across the Tasman but cannot vote, access welfare payments or social services, or receive a subsidised education.

Abbott also refused to intervene in a supermarket war against Kiwi produce that has seen New Zealand-made products thrown from the shelves in some blind fit of nationalism by the Aussie supermarket giants.

We shouldn't be surprised. The lessons here are obvious.

If we didn't know already, Australia plays hardball and always puts itself first. And it's time we stopped complaining about it.

The good news is, New Zealand's economy is on a roll while Australia's is in reverse.

Years of complacency, profligate spending and ignorance of the realities of the global economy and climate change are coming home to roost.

The Lucky Country is also fast becoming an international laughing stock under Abbott, who is pulling out of climate treaties and dumping scientific advisory panels on global warming while preparing to desecrate the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmanian forests in a short-sighted bid to resurrect Australia's dependence on extractive industries. All the better for New Zealand if eco-sensitive tourists bypass Australia for our shores.

The supermarket "ban" on our products is little short of petty and will hurt the Australian consumer desperate for some flavour from their produce as much as it will hurt us. It's unlikely to last but, in the meantime, it's a reminder of the dangers of one overwhelmingly dominant foreign market.

Australia's experience in China is more proof of that folly, should we need it.

Perhaps a focus on sustainable production methods may also help our producers get better access and higher value for their goods further afield from the Coles and Woolies duopoly.

Key would do well to consider how fast the wheels are falling off Australia's economic express and to make sure he does not repeat its mistakes here. And as Labour leader David Cunliffe has pointed out, perhaps a little less forelock tugging in the presence of our bigger neighbours might be in order as well.

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As much as Key wants to be mates with Abbott, he needs to remember the Australian premier has only his country's interests at heart.

That is as it should be. Australia will always be our greatest friend and ally. But we cannot and should not rely on it.

As for Kiwis lamenting life across the ditch under Abbott, there's a simple solution: come home. The grass is getting greener by the day.

- Sunday Star Times

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