Heather du Plessis-Allan: Standing up to Australia – what’s Jacinda Ardern’s game here?

It’s likely the Prime Minister’s fury at Australia this week went down well with Kiwi voters.

Jacinda Ardern fired an extraordinary broadside at Scott Morrison for revoking the Australian citizenship of a Jihadi bride who was born in NZ, but raised and radicalised in Australia. ScoMo’s unilateral actions mean that when Turkey deports Suhayra Aden and her two children, it will most likely be to New Zealand. In her barely-concealed fury, Ardern fumed that “New Zealand, frankly, is tired of having Australia export its problems”.

It is a very simple goodies versus baddies narrative that Ardern is selling. And to some extent it’s true: we are the victims of Australia’s selfishness. But, in another way, it’s not that simple.

We are actually guilty of doing the same to countries more vulnerable than ourselves. Ardern has made it clear she has no intention of trying to bring home Mark Taylor aka The Bumbling Jihadi. He’s been a burden on forces in Syria who’ve housed him in jail for possibly longer than two years. The Government will likely say this is no comparison to the case of the Jihadi bride, but it is, in that we appear happy to have another country bear the burden of our trouble-maker, but then squeal when Australia does the same to us.

A year ago, almost to the day, was when Ardern first publicly scolded ScoMo. Standing next to him at Kirribilli House, she told him off for deporting Australian-raised criminals back to New Zealand. Again, we do the same to others smaller than us. In a five-year period, we deported 1040 people back to Pacific Islands. Just as the Aussies punch down on us, we punch down on smaller countries.

It’s a great political play to stand up to the big guys. Kiwi voters love it. David Lange played it beautifully when he took on the US over the nuclear issue. Ardern has cottoned on to this too and made hay. In only four years, she has scolded the Australian High Commissioner for errant remarks made by former Aussie Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, rebuked former PM Malcolm Turnbull for not taking Nauru refugees, and then pouted at ScoMo a couple of times.

Labour strategists must by now know this anti-Aussie game nicely rounds out the PM’s brand, which can stray too far into schmaltzy stuff like kindness and Easter Bunnies.

But ultimately, the tellings-off are ineffective. Australia hasn’t budged on the constant stream of 501 deportees it sends our way, and it doesn’t look like it’ll budge on the Jihadi bride. So far, ScoMo’s public position remains the same. Just like Ardern is playing to her voters, he is playing to his. His tough stance will likely go down well back home.

The question is whether Ardern risks pushing this too far. There seems little to gain from berating Australia so frequently.

We need Australia more than they need us. That country is our second-biggest trading partner, our closest military ally and is home to more than half a million Kiwis who live there visa-free by Australia’s good grace. We brazenly free-load on their regional heavy lifting, especially when it comes China.

There are signs the Morrison government is currently a little irritated at the Ardern government. It’s understood his administration took hers by surprise when they approved the Pfizer Covid vaccine a week earlier than we did. That was supposed to happen in tandem. Their sudden decision to close their border to us after the positive Northland case clearly annoyed Ardern.

Some say you have to go back to the days of Rob Muldoon to witness transtasman bickering quite like this. It’s deliberate at Ardern’s end. She clearly calculates Kiwis love it when she rarks it up, even when it achieves nothing good.

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