No countries have a closer relationship with Australia than New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. We have shared history and culture, similar interests and values, and our citizens often travel to, work, and even live in each other’s countries.
In a 2014 BBC poll three-quarters of Australians thought the influence of these three countries was mainly positive, and the reverse is also true: a 2011 survey found that Australia was the most favourable country of Britons. The USA is over 15 points behind.
It is no surprise that the bonds between our four countries are so strong, or that we are known by diplomats as the “CANZUK” group due to our closeness at the international level. Part of the Commonwealth with parliamentary politics, the common law and similar values, we share a rich history and a relationship no other countries share. With the current international economic climate, we have a unique opportunity to capitalise upon this to significantly increase our prosperity and boldly chart a new course for the 21st century.
Earlier this year the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and seek closer economic ties to the rest of the world. Prime Minister Turnbull has already stated his enthusiasm for a “very strong, very open free trade agreement” with the UK, and a bilateral Trade Working Group has already been established.
With the probable failure of the TPP due to the election of Donald Trump in the United States, this is a rare opportunity for Australia that we should not let go to waste by limiting it to a simple bilateral free trade agreement. Rather, our government should demonstrate vision and advocate for a more formal CANZUK grouping.
For over 20 years Australia and New Zealand have benefited from the CERTA agreement, guaranteeing freedom of trade and movement between our two countries, benefiting both sides of the Tasman.
It is time we expanded this. Australians should be able to live and work in the UK or Canada without needing any special permit or visa and without waiting in the rest-of-the-world queue at Heathrow, and idea already endorsed by former Prime Minster Tony Abbott.
Our economies would benefit from free trade, giving our farmers access to the lucrative UK & Canadian markets. Mutual recognition of educational and training qualifications would simplify life for many Australians, while coordinating our regulatory standards would help our businesses prosper. Expanding our defence ties could also provide greater stability and security at a time of rising global tensions.
Such a CANZUK group would be a big player in the world and would not need to rely on anyone else to stand up for it. Between us, we would control a surface area of more than 18 million square kilometres, the largest in the world, exceeding even Russia’s 17 million. Our combined population, at 128 million, would be the world’s 10th largest, just ahead of Japan, and our combined military spending of around $US110 billion would be the world’s third largest, behind the U.S. and China but well ahead of Russia.
At $US6.5 trillion in combined GDP and total global trade worth more than $US3 trillion, the CANZUK countries would be one of the words strongest economies and taken seriously. When CANZUK spoke, not everyone would agree. But everyone would have to listen.
There is little danger in such an arrangement becoming one-sided or tilted in favour of the United Kingdom. The GDP of Australia and Canada together is higher than that of the UK, and the Canadian, Australian and NZ populations combined are about the same as that of the UK, and any Secretariat can be set outside the UK to avoid any perceptions of the revival of empire. This would be a partnership of equals, based on similarity of goals, constitutions and cultures and very great mutual regard.
Many of the world’s alliances still reflect the era of the Cold War or its immediate aftermath. We need a new set for the age of the internet and the space-plane, in which trusting each other and clicking when we deal together is more important than distance. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom share that trust and have a historic opportunity to forge a prosperous future.
It’s good to have mates. Isn’t it worth a try?
Tim Andrews is Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
Andrew Lilico is Director of Europe Economics
[This article first appeared in The Spectator Australia]