Australia peeved with its neighbor, worries games threaten Commonwealth talks

Australian officials are exasperated with New Zealand, their nearest neighbor. They view the New Zealand Rugby Union's insistence on playing rugger with South Africa's "Springboks" as jeopardizing two events Australia has taken great pains to organize: the summit of Commonwealth heads of government in Melbourne scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 8 and next year's Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

If the New Zealand Government doesn't step into the fray and call off the Springboks' summer tour, Australian officials say the New Zealand delegation will be strongly condemned at the summit, wrecking Australia's hopes of a trouble-free meeting.

Worse, say the officials, African nations -- with support from other third-world Commonwealth nations -- warn they will boycott the Commonwealth games if New Zealand shows up after hosting the South African team. A boycott would turn the games into a meaningless fiasco, the Australians say.

Australia has been developing close, cordial relations with the Commonwealth's English-speaking African nations. African and third-world governments are heavily represented in the Commonwealth, and opposition to South African apartheid is a major issue among them. Even predominantly white Commonwealth nations like Australia and Canada stand solidly with them on this time.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Foreign Minister Tony Street, and other political and sports officials have advised the New Zealanders to cancel the rugby games. With the New Zealand Cabinet divided into pro-tour and anti-tour factions, Australia is hoping for a last-minute ban.

New Zealand officials suggest Australia is interfering in its affairs. Some outspokenly condemn Australia's "interference" and resent any suggestion that they should bow to pressures from their bigger neighbor across the Tasman Sea.

The rugby controversy is front-page news in both nations. Observers cannot recall an issue that has caused so deep a chasm betw een the two governments.

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