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In the rapidly evolving landscape of international relations, New Zealand finds itself at a crossroads, teetering on the brink of missed opportunities and diminishing influence. While Australia surges ahead, seizing every chance to strengthen its global partnerships, NZ’s prolonged and painfully slow coalition talks threaten to relegate the nation to the side lines of international relevance.

The urgency of the situation is underscored by the statement from India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, at the 14th Foreign Ministerial Framework Dialogue with Australian counterpart Penny Wong in New Delhi saying that the India-Australia strategic partnership is making great strides and that “every facet of the India-Australia relationship is on the move.” It was an acknowledgement of the relationship with Australia as being a critical one for the Indo-Pacific region.

Over the past 24 months, Australia has taken bold strides to enhance its international standing. It has demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt and forge meaningful alliances. In the midst of this geopolitical shift, NZ’s sluggish progress on its advancement of the India relationship is evident, and the consequences of this inertia are already becoming apparent. The question that arises is not whether NZ is capable of building crucial relationships but rather if it can overcome the political gridlock hindering its progress.

The delays in forming a new government, even weeks after the election, are causing NZ to lose ground on the global stage. Prime Minister-designate Christopher Luxon’s decision to step back from significant international summits, including the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), speaks volumes about the state of affairs in Wellington while Luxon grapples with the intricacies of coalition talks.

The risk here is not merely a temporary setback but the long-term relegation of NZ to international irrelevance. NZ cannot afford to let the protracted coalition negotiations become a stumbling block to its global ambitions.

What exacerbates the situation is Luxon’s need to prioritise managing the coalition over international relationship-building. While internal stability is undoubtedly crucial, it should not come at the expense of neglecting external partnerships, especially with nations as strategically important as India.

The diplomatic dance between nations requires nimbleness and agility. The prolonged coalition talks are not just a domestic matter; they are sending a message to the world that NZ is preoccupied with its internal affairs at the expense of engaging with the broader international community.

It is crucial for NZ to understand that the world does not wait for those caught in political inertia. The Indo-Pacific is witnessing a transformative period, and nations that act decisively will shape the future. Australia’s strategic engagements in the region are not just about economic gains; they are also about cementing influence, fostering cooperation, and ensuring stability in a volatile geopolitical environment.

The onus is now on NZ’s leadership to break free from the shackles of prolonged coalition talks and seize the opportunities that lie ahead. The external environment demands proactive engagement, and the longer NZ delays, the harder it will be to recover lost ground. The India bus is moving, and NZ risks missing it yet again unless it accelerates its efforts to form a government and actively participate in the dynamic shifts occurring in the Indo-Pacific.

Moreover, the domestic landscape is fraught with challenges that demand immediate attention. The housing crisis, economic recovery post-pandemic, healthcare reforms, and social inequalities are pressing issues that cannot be put on hold indefinitely. Every day without a functional government further delays the implementation of policies and initiatives necessary to address these critical matters. The longer these challenges persist without effective governance, the greater the impact on the daily lives of New Zealanders.