Lockwood Smith begins new job
Tuesday 26 Mar 2013 7:52 a.m.
NZ high commissioner Lockwood Smith (file)
By Julian Drape
New Zealand's new high commissioner in London is ready to tackle the Brits over their expensive departure tax and restrictions facing Kiwis working in the United Kingdom.
Lockwood Smith, who quit Parliament to take up the post, was welcomed at New Zealand House on Monday with a powhiri ceremony.
Dr Smith told the gathering as a former Speaker he was acutely aware of the "great gift of Parliamentary democracy" New Zealand inherited from Britain.
After the ceremony the high commissioner, 64, said he would focus on continuing NZ's strong trade and business links with Britain.
Defence, security, science, education and tourism ties would also remain a priority, he told NZ Newswire.
But Dr Smith said the UK's departure tax, which has hit long-distance travellers hardest, required special attention.
"It's affected tourism very significantly," he said on Monday. "Our tourism from Britain has fallen off.
"It's a difficult issue, but I'll see what can be done to reduce the hit."
The UK's Air Passenger Duty is £92 (NZ$167) for long-haul flights.
Another bugbear, for both New Zealanders and Australians, is the increasingly tough rules for work visas.
The high commissioner said living and working in London was an important part of many Kiwis' "heritage".
Dr Smith said restrictions on working in the UK was a complex issue "that will obviously occupy my mind as we look ahead".
"There are groups it's affecting particularly at the moment - young accountants and young singers."
As Speaker over the past four years, Dr Smith reformed Parliamentary processes and was known for demanding clear answers to clear questions.
"I've never been known just to warm a seat," the high commissioner told NZ Newswire. "So here I'll be doing everything I can to advance New Zealand's interests."
The former National Party MP arrived in London on Friday.
Some 150 years ago his great-grandparents left the UK capital on the sailing ship, Hanover, bound for New Zealand.
They'd previously been in Canada after originally leaving Scotland.
Dr Smith's grandfather was five at the time the Hanover sailed.
"Little did they ever imagine their grandson would one day come back here to London to represent New Zealand back in the country they were leaving," he said.