Prime ministers Anthony Albanese and Chris Luxon shake hands in Sydney
Anthony Albanese talked trade and defence with New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Luxon in Sydney. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

New Kiwi PM flags potential for AUKUS tech co-operation

December 20, 2023

New Zealand could share in advanced military technology from Australia and AUKUS partners following a trans-Tasman leaders meeting with Anthony Albanese.

The Australian prime minister held talks in Sydney on Wednesday with his Kiwi counterpart Chris Luxon, in the newly elected NZ leader’s first official overseas visit since taking office.

The pair discussed trans-Tasman relations, trade and defence including the AUKUS pact with the US and UK, through which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Mr Luxon said New Zealand was interested in pillar two of the agreement, which involves the development of military technology such as hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence.

He said the military agreement could lead to further opportunities for Australia and New Zealand to work together.

Prime ministers Anthony Albanese and Chris Luxon at a press conference
 Prime Minister Chris Luxon said New Zealand could contribute to developing advanced military tech. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“AUKUS is a very important element in ensuring we’ve got peace in the region … there’s a number of countries that are increasing their military capabilities and it’s a more contested region for sure,” Mr Luxon told reporters.

“We’ll work through that over the course of next year, as we understand it more and think about what the opportunities might be for us.”

Mr Albanese said the AUKUS agreement would promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“There are opportunities for greater co-operation between militaries, particularly in interoperability that has practical effects as well. It’s about efficiency,” he said.

“There are areas of co-operation which are challenges to the globe, like artificial intelligence … the more that we co-operate, the better the benefit for both of our countries.”

While Australia would acquire nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS, New Zealand is a nuclear-free zone with Mr Luxon saying that position is non-negotiable.

Joining AUKUS pillar two would more closely bind the two nations but it is likely to wedge New Zealand in the Pacific.

Most of the Pacific is vehemently anti-nuclear, a legacy of nuclear testing in the region, and see the AUKUS pact as a threat to the largely pacifist “blue continent”.

Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese and Chris Luxon meet in Sydney.
 Trans-Tasman relations, trade and defence were discussed when the prime ministers met in Sydney. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

In Sydney, the two leaders also committed to the trans-Tasman road map to 2035, an agreement on how the countries can work together across areas such as the economy, security and the Pacific region.

Mr Albanese also invited Mr Luxon to attend the Australia-ASEAN Summit, being held in Melbourne in March.

“These are great opportunities for us to work together on closer economic ties, closer social ties and working together in the international community to meet our common objectives,” Mr Albanese said.

The New Zealand prime minister said the relationship between the two countries needed to be strengthened further amid global uncertainty.

“This is a relationship that actually deserves constant renewal. We want to deliver new energy, new enthusiasm and new direction to ensure that our bond is fit for contemporary challenges that we see,” Mr Luxon said.

The trip fulfils a campaign pledge by Mr Luxon to make Australia his first destination if elected, a nod to the importance of the relationship to New Zealand.

Australia is New Zealand’s only formal ally and its second biggest trading partner. About 700,000 Kiwis, or 14 per cent of the population, live in Australia.

Conversely, Australia primarily views its defence ties through a military alliance with the US.

Trans-Tasman trade ties have less significance with New Zealand being Australia’s eighth biggest partner, and fewer than half of one per cent of Australians live in New Zealand.

University of Otago international relations professor Robert Patman said he considered ties to be at a high point due to one key reason.

“Mainly because (of) the departure of Scott Morrison,” he said.

On the eve of the trip Mr Luxon said he considered the major trans-Tasman irritant of the past decade, Australia’s deportations, to be “resolved” with fewer criminals being sent across the ditch.

“We’ve got a government under Anthony Albanese that’s actually done New Zealand a real solid,” he said.