New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is to attend a meeting of the Australian National Cabinet scheduled for Tuesday, 5 May.
Among the key items on the agenda will be coordinating the two countries approaches to fighting the current pandemic, Australia’s impending decision on the possible significant easing of lockdown restrictions, and the COVID-19 tracing app developed by the Australian government.
The cabinet meeting is also being attended by state and territory leaders, and Ardern will join remotely from New Zealand.
High level of Trans-Tasman cooperation draws praise
This marks another step in the ongoing cooperation between the Trans-Tasman neighbours during the pandemic. The high level of non-partisan collaboration between two leaders with very different political standpoints has drawn widespread praise.
The very serious New York Times, for example, noted in an article published on 24 April: “Thousands of miles from President Trump’s combative news briefings, a conservative leader in Australia and a progressive prime minister in New Zealand are steadily guiding their countries toward a rapid suppression of the coronavirus outbreak.”
Sydney bureau chief for the newspaper, Damien Cave, observed that whether or not they succeed in completely eliminating the virus from their respective nations, “what Australia and New Zealand have already accomplished is a remarkable cause for hope”.
Two very different leaders with different agendas
“Scott Morrison of Australia, a conservative Christian, and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s darling of the left, are both succeeding with throwback democracy – in which partisanship recedes, experts lead and quiet coordination matters more than firing up the base,” he wrote.
The Times emphasised that the two prime ministers have already discussed reopening travel between their countries and had placed significant faith in science rather than in petty politics. “Some scientists wonder if eliminating the virus with good management might rebuild some faith not just in democracy, but also in the value of expertise,” it said.
This high level of collaboration seemed less likely earlier in the year, when Morrison and Ardern clashed openly on several issues. Most prominent was Australia’s deportation of New Zealand citizens, some of whom had been living in Australia almost since birth.
At the time, Ardern said New Zealand “would not stand for a lack of respect in the relationship”.
The deportation issue has caused tension between the two countries for years, but more recently became an election issue in New Zealand, when police there said deportees from Australia were fuelling a rise in criminal gang activity.
First of two Cabinet meetings this week
The Tuesday meeting of the Australian National Cabinet is the first of two scheduled for this week. The second is due to take place on Friday, 8 May and will likely confirm what lockdown restrictions will be lifted.