AUSTRALIA AND New Zealand should consider becoming one country, according to a government committee that has investigated harmonising the two countries’ legal systems.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has made 27 recommendations aimed at reducing or eliminating inconsistencies, duplication or complexity between Australian laws and between Australian and New Zealand laws, with particular reference to those areas impacting on trade and commerce.
Among the committee’s recommendations is that a trans-Tasman standing committee be established to explore and report on mutually beneficial opportunities, including the possibility of a closer association or full union.
“While Australia and New Zealand are of course two sovereign nations, it seems to the committee that the strong ties between the two countries — the economic, cultural, migration, defence, governmental and people-to-people linkages — suggest that an even closer relationship, including the possibility of union, is both desirable and realistic,” the report found.
“The committee is of the view therefore that Australia and New Zealand would benefit from collaboration at the parliamentary level to ensure ongoing harmonisation of their legal systems and to investigate future options for mutually beneficial activity, including the possibility of union.”
The report found the two countries had a uniquely close relationship dating back to when New Zealand was one of seven colonies of Australasia prior to federation in 1901. New Zealand is still referred to as one of the original states in the Australian constitution.
Chairman of the committee, Peter Fisher said Australia was not about to annex New Zealand. “This is not to be seen as a hostile takeover attempt of New Zealand. Any union that went ahead would be on basis that it was mutually beneficial and entirely voluntary,” Fisher said.
Asked whether he thought Australians and New Zealanders would be amenable to a union, Fisher was unsure but said it wouldn’t be easy.
“I think there would be quite some distance to travel and there would be a lot of debate, but only time will tell,” he said.
The committee also recommended that Australia and New Zealand consider introducing a common currency, but New Zealand’s finance minister Michael Cullen has rejected adopting Australia’s currency.
“There’s no such thing as a common currency on the table and there never has been.
“The Australian Government has made it clear that if we wish to adopt their currency we can do so.
“There’s never been a suggestion of a common currency between the two. There’s been a suggestion that New Zealand might adopt Australia’s currency, we are not going to do that,” Cullen told reporters.
The committee also highlighted several examples of “the senselessness” that can result from a lack of legal harmonisation between Australian states and territories. These included that power of attorney granted in NSW would not be valid in the ACT, and that different states have different requirements for first aid kits in workplaces, including different bandage sizes. So employers operating in more than one state need to purchase different types of first aid kits.
The report will be considered by the Attorney General, who is expected to respond to the recommendations in roughly three months.