Rod McGeoch: Bridging TransTasman Relationships – Leading the Leadership Movement

There are few assets more prized among those working on the top-level advancement of the transTasman economic and trade relationship than Roderick (Rod) Hamilton McGeoch. This is chiefly because of his role as Australian co-chairman of the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum. While McGeoch is prominent Sydneysider, perhaps best known for leading the successful bid for that city to host the 2000 Olympic Games, he is almost as deeply embedded in the New Zealand business scene as he is in the Australian equivalent.
McGeoch is impeccably connected in government, business and law on both sides of the ditch, which helps explain why he was asked to take over the Australian co-chairmanship of the forum from former Qantas chief executive James Strong earlier this year.
The Leadership Forum was established in 2004. It brings together prominent businesspeople, senior political and public sector figures, academics and media from both countries to discuss the transTasman relationship and to network on issues of common interest.
Of late, it has been key player in the development of the Single Economic Market concept, which aims to break down borders to transTasman trade and investment and to expand the Closer Economic Relations agreement (CER).
In late June, McGeoch was among those attending dinner in Sydney to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of CER. One of CER’s founding fathers, former Australian deputy prime minister Doug Anthony, couldn’t attend due to poor health, but he did pen message which was published on the dinner menu.
Anthony said the enlargement of the European Community in recent years had set powerful precedent in the movement of people between countries – both tourists and workforce. He suggested this could act as model for expanding CER to incorporate the freer movement of people between New Zealand and Australia. Europe’s economy had been revitalised and many of the “earlier dreams of greater social equality and cohesion” in Europe at peace had been achieved; the liberalisation of the movement of people and labour being central to this success.
“If Europe with history of conflict and distrust can move with relative ease to achieve this, then surely Australia and New Zealand can attack with confidence any problems that we may face with such liberalisation,” Anthony said.
Anthony suggested initiatives such as an ANZAC passport, common central bank (with the European Central Bank as model), common currency, and common stock exchange, total exemption from foreign investment controls for “genuine investment” from the other country – be it industrial, agricultural, services, or media; common health labelling and safety rules; common educational syllabus; and harmonised rules for carbon trading.
This was journalistic manna from heaven – perfect fodder to discuss with McGeoch during NZ Management’s interview with him at his home the next morning in quiet but opulent part of Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The weekend papers were piled up on the kitchen table for his later consideration, and at one point McGeoch’s wife Deeta, PR executive, drifted in and listened to the interview.
Once described by sharebroker ABN Amro as Australasia’s most influential director, McGeoch is prominent in the New Zealand business scene as chairman of SkyCity Entertainment Group and as director of Telecom. In Australia, he is chairman emeritus of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia’s largest law firms. He also has an impressive record in sports administration to round out his CV.
But back to CER and the leadership forum. McGeoch says the Leadership Forum’s underlying role is to keep heading for uniformity and full reciprocity between New Zealand and Australia in trade and investment.
“We think, by and large, that it’s unhelpful to talk about one country, or New Zealand becoming new seventh state [of Australia]. My own view is that this is entirely New Zealand matter. It’s their sovereignty that’s being discussed and it’s entirely up to them. I don’t go down that path, I don’t think it’s my business.
McGeoch’s self-confessed motivation is that he is very competitive individual and he believes that opportunities will pass us by in this part of the world unless we have an action plan – and work together to secure bright future.
“I think we’ve also seen in the past three or four years the folly of some earlier thinking. It wasn’t so long ago that people said: ‘look, if you’ve just got minerals on the ground or animals walking on the surface, you’re not going to make it – you’ve got to value-add and manufacture and get into the hi-tech this, that and the other thing.’
“Well, the fact of the matter is that today, the thing that’s paying off for Australia and New Zealand is our basic industries, which we’re still the world’s best at. It’s not case of we’ll run out of this stuff or anything like that, it’s how quickly can we get it out of the ground. We’re the envy of most places in the world.
While some commentators on both sides of the Tasman have called for an acceleration in progress towards economic and monetary union, McGeoch says the Leadership Forum, and the Australian side in particular, has made point during the past three or four years of “getting off that patch”.
“We think it’s unhelpful to try and get anywhere on that at the moment. Within the leadership levels on your side there’s not readiness yet to openly discuss that, and people don’t feel they’re authorised to.”
He says there is current lack of generosity from Australia about how to discuss it – it is the biggest country “therefore we can give the most, but what we’ve got coming out of Australia at the moment is: ‘we are the biggest, so why don’t you fall in with us?’”
McGeoch credits Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s new government with being sensitive to the New Zealand mindset, in contrast to the former Liberal-National coalition during its 12 years in power, which was more aggressive in pushing New Zealand to peg itself to the Australian dollar, for example.
“You can’t expect New Zealand to soften this veneer of strong independence until it can be absolutely sure that it’s going to be looked after.”
One of the sticking points in the debate about common currency is the fear that the New Zealand dollar would be subsumed into the Australia dollar and with it would go the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
Then, says McGeoch, our Reserve Bank governor would get worried and say: “Wait minute, we think the prudential arrangements around our banks need to be separate from yours, we’re not sure they should be administered out of Canberra.”
When anyone asks about movement towards common currency within the forum, says McGeoch, “Everyone in that room says there are going to be Central Bank issues, there’s going to be Treasury issue, so are you ready to go there yet? It’s journey into very deep unknown area to surrender sovereignty; it’s big ask. We’re not talking about countries that are on their knees, we’re talking about countries that in the last century were able to look after themselves, defend themselves, and run themselves.”
McGeoch says there is strong mutual respect and deep affection between the two countries.
“There is recognition of the significant economic activity between us. We have the same rule of law, and the same ethical standards. We could probably run our affairs in less regulated and more common way than we might with other countries, so why don’t we do that? That’s where we’re at.”
Asking rhetorically if he would like New Zealand to be an Australian state, McGeoch admits he would.
“It would add considerable fire power to Australia and I think there’d be number of things that New Zealand would get the benefit of. But it’s bit of an idle question in some ways, because it’s not our business, it’s very much up to the leadership of New Zealand to decide what is their d

Visited 8 times, 1 visit(s) today

Business benefits of privacy

Privacy Week (13-17 May) is a great time to consider the importance of privacy and to help ensure you and your company have good privacy practices in place, writes Privacy

Read More »
Close Search Window