/ 10 June 2022

Albanese and Ardern say g’day/kia ora

Kiwi PM Jacinda Ardern is the first foreign leader to be hosted by freshly minted PM Anthony Albanese – she jetted into Sydney late yesterday for an informal dinner ahead of formal talks. That doesn’t mean it was trackie dacks and Thai takeaway last night before moving on to a black-tie event today… It means the pair have had a chance to have an off-the-record chinwag – and there’s a lot to discuss given their connection through the progressive side of politics. (Fun fact: the last time Oz and New Zealand had Labor/Labour leaders was in 2008 – the first year of Kevin Rudd’s government and Helen Clark’s last – and that was the only year of the past 32…) And today brings the down-to-business, head-to-head discussions that national leaders do.

Well, the last time Ardern was here was 28 February 2020 – the day New Zealand reported its first COVID case. And as it was that day, ‘501 deportees’ are top of Ardern’s list. That’s a reference to the Kiwis we deport using powers under section 501 in the Migration Act if they don’t pass a character test regardless of whether they still have a connection to New Zealand. More than 8,500 people have been sent ‘home’ to New Zealand since 2015, including many born there but have pretty much lived their whole lives here. And there is a criminal element with Kiwi authorities blaming 501 deportees for escalating gang problems. The Morrison Government was not for turning, but Kiwi media has noted Albanese said during the election campaign that he wanted better relations with our neighbour.

Just the little matter of relationships in the Pacific region… Australia and Kiwiland are on a joint ticket of concern about China’s ambitions in our neck of the woods. Ardern was admonished by Beijing last week after meeting with US President Joe Biden. The pair said they are worried China might establish a military presence in the Pacific, and they talked about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But the key takeout could be a very personal one for Albanese and Ardern. As one Kiwi commentator said of the visit, “Australia remains New Zealand’s closest ally, second-largest trading partner and most important diplomatic relationship”, so the “personal chemistry and rapport at the top level will be key things to watch.”

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