Analysis: Hipkins-Albanese meeting a promising start for trans-Tasman kinship

Hipkins was gifted three vinyls by Albanese.

There's a te reo Māori phrase I often heard around Rotorua when I lived there - kanohi ki te kanohi.

It means face to face. It makes sense that in the heart of the hospitality and manaakitanga of Te Arawa, the birthplace of New Zealand tourism, talking face to face is held in high regard.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins got up at the sparrow's proverbial to fly directly to Canberra for a face to face meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

It's not like he comes home with nothing either - Albanese gifted him three vinyl records, including one by Alex the Astronaut called How to Grow a Sunflower Underwater.

Announcing the day trip just a week ago, Hipkins said the trans-Tasman relationship was New Zealand's "closest and most important" and said it was "crucial" for Australia to be his first trip as PM.

There's scarcely a better way for Hipkins to demonstrate he means that by turning up on Albanese's doorstep. He made it easy for the Aussie PM too - many times our prime minister has met their Australian counterpart in Sydney. Hipkins popped into Albanese's office.

More tellingly, perhaps, Albanese fit Hipkins into an already busy schedule - Tuesday was the Australian parliament's first sitting day for the year.

Their body language in their first meeting also seemed like both leaders were keen to make it work. Both seemed slightly nervous, grinning from ear to ear. By the time they had their joint press conference, after their face to face meeting, they seemed more at ease with one another. Hipkins also adopted Albanese's phrasing around the 501 deportee policy softening - calling it "common sense" after Albanese had.

The diplomatic, economic, social and cultural relationship between Australia and New Zealand is undoubtedly an important one, but it is heavily influenced by the relationship between its leaders. Ardern and Albanese had a clearly warm relationship, and that looks set to continue.

However, as the little brother to the big brother Australia, it has always been important for New Zealand to maintain a firm stance. Hipkins was tested today by reporters on whether Australia's 501 policy goes far enough, and whether he is advocating strongly enough on that and for New Zealand citizens' rights in Australia, including improving their path to residency.

To borrow Hipkins' parlance, the "crucial" thing is that while our relationship with Australia remains warm, it isn't because we cower on challenging our Aussie relations.

Otherwise, instead of growing a sunflower underwater, Hipkins will be at risk of growing a wallflower across the Tasman.