New Zealand’s worst-kept secret is out, with Dame Annette King confirmed as the country’s next High Commissioner to Australia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has confirmed King will replace Chris Seed in Canberra at the end of the year, the latest in a long line of diplomatic chopping and changing under the Government as it sets its own diplomatic course.
King has been talked about for months as the likely successor to Seed, and in a statement announcing her new role Peters said the former Labour minister and deputy leader “needs no introduction”.
“As High Commissioner Dame Annette will be working on one of New Zealand’s most significant relationships,” Peters said
“The Trans-Tasman bond is exceptionally strong. However, the relationship is not something we take for granted, and the new High Commissioner will be tasked with keeping the connections strong.”
Anzac ties have been strained in recent years by Australia’s deportation of New Zealand criminals who had spent decades living across the Tasman, along with greater restrictions on the benefits and rights available to Kiwi expats.
New Zealand’s offer to Australia to resettle refugees held in offshore centres has also been contentious, with reports in Australian media claiming the Government’s stance could act as an incentive for more people smugglers to make the trip – allegations rebuffed by foreign affairs officials in New Zealand.
An exception to the ‘brorocracy’
In a May 2016 speech at Victoria University of Wellington, Peters criticised a “mainly white brorocracy” which had resulted in “rundown politicians [being] given reward for in some cases the most dubious of services by sending them offshore – beneficiaries of some undeserved golden handshake”.
The New Zealand First leader said his party would veto any “unsuitable” political appointees and bring them back to New Zealand if it held the balance of power after the election, as proved to be the case.
Peters was careful at the time not to suggest blanket opposition to the appointment of former politicians, highlighting former Labour prime minister Mike Moore’s posting to Washington as a “brilliant idea”.
Perhaps anticipating accusations of hypocrisy over King’s appointment, Peters said she was an “exception”, with career diplomats chosen for the 25 other head of mission roles appointed by the Government in 2018.
One major diplomatic vacancy is yet to be filled – the top job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Current MFAT chief executive Brook Barrington is moving across to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in February next year, but his replacement is yet to be confirmed.