The controversy over the visit to New Zealand by a south African rugby team has spotlighted the wide gap between Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and New Zealand's Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.
Mr. Muldoon has threatened to bring up the question of human rights violation in black Africa if African leaders attack him for allowing private New Zealand sports organizations to invite to New Zealand the Springbok rugby team.
Mr. Fraser -- who fears such an action might disrupt the Commonwealth heads-of- government summit to be held in Melbourne, Australia in September -- would like to mediate the disagreement between Mr. Muldoon and the African Commonwealth members.
The Australian prime minister hopes the conference will take up problems of developing countries. Sources in Canberra say an Australian iniative opposing race discrimination in South Africa will be announced on the eve of the conference.
For Mr. Fraser to be successful at mediation, he may have to bridge, for a while at least, his differences with Mr. Muldoon.
There is no doubt in either country that differences of approach toward the South African rugby team has further hurt relations between the two countries.
In theory,the conservative leaders of the two nations should have much in common. In practice they do not.
The Australian prime minister is a fervently anticommunist conservative and a staunch supporter of US President Ronald Reagan. But he differs from Mr. Reagan on African policy -- and on relations with the third world in general.
He maintains the developed Western nations can best prevent the spread of communism, which he perceives as a major threat, by identifying more closely with third-world aspirations. He gets on well with men such as Tanzania's Presidents Julius Nyerere and Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.
This means Mr. Fraser has to fight off attacks from the pro-South African extreme right of his Liberal Party-National Country Party coalition. They argue he has an obsession with Africa. They cannot understand how a conservative leader who they support on most issues departs so sharply from the conservative norm on Africa.
Prime Minister Muldoon, like Mr. Fraser, is a right-wing conservative. He is known as a blunt and abrasive leader with little time for those who disagree with him. At international meetings he gets on poorly with third-world leaders, not bothering to disguise his impatience with them.
His relations with Mr. Fraserr are hardly better. He has publicly stated Mr. Fraser's adviser do him no credit. He has argued Australia's federal system of government is a waste of money. He has little interest in fostering an attractive image of himself -- and his shortness with Australian reporters has ensured he is not presented as an attractive figure in that country. Few Australian media commentators omit his nickname -- "Piggy" -- from their copy.
Political observers in both capitals say the mutual antipathy of the two leaders is at least partly responsible for the failure of talks on closer economic union between the two countries -- which looked promising two years ago -- from making much progress.
Now Canberra officials contend it is not an Australian responsibility to rescue New Zealand from its economic slump. Wellington officials warn that possible Australian domination is an unattractive option.
In another development related to the Rugby tour, New Zealand criticized an Australian government document explaining the controversy and charged it was inaccurate.
Meanwhile Dr. Peter Onu, deputy secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity, reassured Australian officials who have been worried that African nations might boycott Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, next year if New Zealand attends.
The tour happened to come soon after another event that upset the New Zealanders: Australia decreed that New Zealanders would need to show passports to enter Australia after July 1. While New Zealanders still have the right to live and work in Australia, the move sparked annoyance in New Zealand, where there was not widespread agreement that Australia needed tighter border controls to keep out the drug-traffickers who commonly use New Zealand as a transit stop.
As the protests over the visiting rugby team continued in New Zealand, Mr. Muldoon promised his National Party would campaign on a law-and-order issue in an election to be held by the end of November. His opponents say police action against anti-racist demonstrators has been overly aggressive.
New Zealand's Maori community has been badly split: younger Maoris identify with the antiracist protests. But older Maoris, raised in a society where rugby is revered as few sports are in other countries, maintain the game is the thing -- irrespective of the policies that would make Maoris second-class citizens in South Africa.