The Aussies are fuming, not that Jacinda cares

Jacinda Ardern has caused great offence in her short time as PM.

Even the Media party are having conniptions. In Australia the offence has cut deep:

This season of joy is anything but for Malcolm Turnbull. Australians are fed up with a constitutional shemozzle which has seen numbers of MPs and senators forced from office for the crime of being dual citizens.  Abbott and his conservative cronies have never accepted Turnbull’s legitimacy and keep up a running commentary on his failings in the media.

The Australian Labor Party consistently leads opinion polls and the leader, Bill Shorten, is clawing his way to more respectable poll numbers.

Into this toxic political mix comes a novice New Zealand prime minister with sharp criticisms of Australia’s hardline but bi-partisan immigration policy and the tragedy unfolding on Manus Island.

Canberra is underwhelmed by the timing and tone of the Kiwi commentary. There are dark mutterings of Ardern’s naivety and self-serving “dog whistling” – sending a coded political message to the New Zealand electorate that Kiwis occupy higher moral ground than do those coarse Aussies.

Clearly, this plays well in the New Zealand media still offering a warm honeymoon to the new Labour Government.  Aussie bashing appears to be a regular theme in print and especially in broadcast commentary. But bombast makes a poor substitute for old-fashioned reporting of the facts.  

I think the Media party have taken that on board.

Take the widespread view that New Zealanders have a more humane and decent record in dealing with refugees.

Last year, New Zealand raised its refugee intake from about 750 a year to about a thousand.  It was the first time in 30 years that the refugee intake had been increased.

By comparison, last year Australia’s intake was more than 20,000 and this figure will rise by about a thousand in each of the next two years.

Then there is the view, often retailed in New Zealand, that Australia operates a brutal maritime blockade to stop desperate people from landing on its shores.

Between 2008 and 2013, more than 50,000 people travelled to Australia on more than 800 unauthorised boat trips. More than 1200 died at sea trying to make the journey.

New Zealand has yet to have a single unauthorised boat land on our shores.

Salient and inconvenient facts for Ardern and her apologists.

This has not gone unnoticed in Canberra. Last week the Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, took a thinly veiled swipe at New Zealand by saying that New Zealand benefits from Australia’s tough border protection policies without paying for them.

“We have stopped vessels on their way across the Torres Strait planning to track down the east coast of Australia to New Zealand. We have put hundreds of millions of dollars into a defence effort to stop those vessels.

“We do that, frankly, without any financial assistance from New Zealand,” Dutton said.

The other senior Australian minister with a close interest in the regional implications of Canberra’s border protection policies is the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.

Bishop is a toughie who has never publicly backed away from her statement that she would find it “very difficult to build trust” with a New Zealand Labour Government.

None of this is to suggest that New Zealand’s political leaders should not have concerns about the effects of Australia’s hardline policies or should moderate their criticism. But the view in Canberra is that the new Labour Government in Wellington should be doing more than offering armchair criticism. 

Jacinda has only ever done hot air and slogans.

Prime Minister Turnbull is remarkably well briefed on New Zealand’s view. His new chief of Staff, Peter Woolcott, was until recently Australia’s high commissioner in Wellington. A former high commissioner to Wellington heads Australia’s Defence Department.

That a new Australian high commissioner has not been appointed to Wellington for several months may reflect a certain grumpiness in official circles in Canberra.

Some pundits in Australia are suggesting that history may be about to repeat itself and Malcolm Turnbull could become the latest victim of Canberra’s Killing Season.

If their grim predictions are accurate and Turnbull is dumped as leader of the Liberals, the Canberra cognoscenti speculate than two ministers lead the pack to replace him.

The most likely replacement is the deputy leader, Julie Bishop. After her comes the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton.

Something for Ardern to think about. Very carefully.

I’m not sure thinking was ever on her CV. She’s put herself and us in the firing line of some rather grumpy Aussie politicians. Those same politicians would think nothing of rescinding visa free travel rights for Kiwis.

 

-Fairfax

 


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