Analysis: With an election just around the corner Prime Minister Chris Hipkins didn’t miss an opportunity to be optimistic about his political future on more than one occasion in front of a large Kiwi and Aussie press corps on Wednesday.

It was also an opportunity to talk about anything other than the ministerial resignations, caucus leaking and wealth tax tantrums currently inflicting his party and Government.

The meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was described as the first annual leaders’ meeting between the pair, the emphasis being the first of hopefully many for Hipkins.

The big talking point across the long wooden table on the second floor of the Beehive on Wednesday afternoon was the details of a taskforce that would look at making travel between the countries easier while ensuring biosecurity isn’t compromised in any way.

The deadline for that group to report back is June – very much in the next Parliament term for Hipkins – but there were plenty of hints the pair could have more to say earlier than that, though before October 14 would likely be a stretch.

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Albanese said the idea was to create a “seamless experience” for both Kiwis and Australians travelling between the two countries by identifying and green-lighting travellers before they get on the plane.

SmartGate technology would likely be used to assist in the more open borders.

Where the open travel idea gets more difficult is around biosecurity, something Australia and New Zealand have invested a lot of money in to keep their economies and primary industries safe.

The taskforce will work through how best to waiver the usual checks without losing the protection that comes from border control.

While the meeting was the first annual leaders’ meeting hosted in New Zealand, it was the fifth time the pair have met in the seven months Hipkins has been Prime Minister.

Hipkins and Albanese have a habit of trying to talk sport whenever they meet, despite neither being naturally good at giving each other jabs about whatever code they happen to be discussing.

Hipkins has travelled to Australia twice already, once very early on in his tenure to Canberra to formally meet with Albanese after Jacinda Ardern resigned, and then again in April to Brisbane.

That was where the pair announced changes to the pathway to citizenship in Australia making it easier for Kiwis who have made it their home.

Wednesday’s meeting was timed to fit with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is being jointly hosted by the two countries. While there was no game for them to attend they did make a trip to the waterfront fan zone to share a drink in what would have been a pretty crisp 4 degree southerly – a truly Wellington experience.

Hipkins and Albanese have a habit of trying to talk sport whenever they meet, despite neither being naturally good at giving each other jabs about whatever code they happen to be discussing.

This week Hipkins picked the mighty Warriors to give Albanese a ribbing over, noting he “couldn’t help but be pleased with the Warriors’ golden point win over the Raiders at the weekend”.

Continuing to read from his notes, to be sure not to get the league lingo wrong, he suggested to Albanese he wasn’t sure the “top-of-the-table matchups help your Rabbitohs all that much in this part of the season”.

An accurate but quite complicated quip that wasn’t particularly funny.

Outside of sport the pair did get through a sizeable agenda of issues from strategic geopolitics in the region through to trade – particularly the growing Māori economy – commitments and partnerships in the Pacific, and a roadmap setting out areas in which the two countries will continue their cooperation over the next decade.

At the joint press conference, the pair navigated questions on defence, the Aukus pact, and citizenship and passport-free travel.

Both prime ministers were also asked questions from their respective media contingents on what conversations, if any, they’d had about Australia’s Indigenous Voice referendum, and how closely Albanese was looking at New Zealand’s blueprint for Treaty settlements.

Recent polling shows the referendum may not pass. Albanese strongly supports it as Australia is an outlier when it comes to not recognising Indigenous people in its constitution compared to other British colonial nations.

Albanese made it clear New Zealand and Australia, having markedly different histories, were coming at it from different places, which seemed like an attempt to distance anything Australia may look to do from the redress settlement process New Zealand has been progressing.

Hipkins responded by pointing to the “bumps” over the decades of the settlement process and the controversies that had blown up, but went on to say that looking back now it was hard to see what the controversy was even about.

He didn’t offer any specific examples of the controversies he was talking about. 

While it was still a work in progress for New Zealand, Hipkins believed the settlement process had overall been positive for the country.

It’s a foreign affairs marathon for Hipkins this week with Albanese heading off after a state dinner Wednesday evening and a wreath-laying at Pukeahu on Thursday morning, only for the Prime Minister to then rush back to the Beehive for a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta met Blinken on his arrival Wednesday night and held a private dinner. The pair will hold a joint press conference on Thursday at the conclusion of Blinken’s Beehive meetings.

Having only just returned from several weeks on the road in China and Europe, Hipkins will at least be pleased that his foreign diplomacy work is on home soil, and he can sleep in his own bed at the end of it.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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