No matter how disagreeable Australia is, New Zealand may just have to accept it | New Zealand From “World news | The Guardian”

While the epithets hurled by US, Russian and Chinese leaders at each other make world headlines, a little-noticed diplomatic spat is worsening between normally friendly neighbours Australia and New Zealand.This is unexpected and unwanted. The two countries are arguably among the planet’s most closely interlinked. Their longstanding and intimate social, economic and inter-governmental ties are rivalled only by those of the US with Canada, the UK with Ireland, and France with Belgium.And the consequences of a trans-Tasman diplomatic breakdown are potentially serious for regional stability. It would slow the nascent coalescence of democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region, signalled by the revival of the Quad by US president Joe Biden as a counterbalance to the influence of a rising China. It would retard progress towards regional trade liberalisation and hamper cooperation in aiding Pacific island states facing economic weakness, indebtedness to China, and rising sea levels. It would undermine the credibility of both countries as a destination for trade, investment, and tourism.The latest clash between Wellington and Canberra came earlier this month when Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, referred to New Zealanders sent home as part of his government’s policy of deporting non-citizens convicted and sentenced to more than one year in prison as “trash”. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, retaliated by saying his comments “only serve to trash his own reputation”. The uproar continued when it was reported that Australia had deported a 15-year-old to New Zealand without his parents.Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, has repeatedly pointed out to her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, the unreasonableness of deporting individuals who have grown up in Australia to what is virtually a foreign country to them.For New Zealanders the policy is a reminder of Australia’s harsh asylum policies which stand in stark contrast to those of their own country. While Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers continues, in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru, New Zealand has repeatedly offered to accept some of those held there and welcomed one of the offshore centre’s best known detainees, writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani.The deportation spat came just weeks after Canberra cancelled the citizenship of a New Zealand-Australia dual citizen, a woman with two children who had been married to an Isis fighter and was apprehended by authorities in Turkey. She requested repatriation to Australia where she had grown up and from which she had departed using her Australian passport. Ardern accused Australia of abdicating its responsibilities, branding the citizenship cancellation “wrong” and arguing that “any fair-minded person would consider this person an Australian.”It’s worth mentioning that New Zealand’s worst case of terrorism, the Christchurch mosque massacre two years ago, was perpetrated by an Australian. Despite suggestions by New Zealand’s then minister of foreign affairs, Winston Peters, Australia did not request extradition; New Zealand has taken responsibility for his trial and life imprisonment, at considerable expense.Australia’s actions reflect more than the decisions of one hardline minister. Though Kiwi journalist Rebekah Holt has characterised Dutton’s comments on deportations as “racist dog-whistling”, his immigration policy is supported by a majority of the electorate.Despite tough talk from Dutton and Morrison on the one hand and Ardern and Mahuta on the other, a real rupture in relations is unlikely because the two sides have too much to lose. Intermittent disagreements have flared up from 1900 to the present over governance, potatoes, apples, “back door” immigrants, airlines, and security and more recently Covid-19 border closures.But they have been managed acceptably if not always to the full satisfaction of each party. Leaders continue to consult almost daily on the full spectrum of common interests. The two countries enjoy the world’s most effective bilateral, free-trade agreement (from 1983), liberal investment, travel, educational and residential arrangements, cross-recognition of professional and trades qualifications, and defence force cooperation. Their sporting rivalry in rugby and cricket is highly valued despite fans’ exuberant barracking and irreverent jokes.As the smaller partner, New Zealand benefits disproportionately from the relationship. Australia is New Zealand’s second-best trade partner (closely behind China) and top investor and source of tourists. Thus, Wellington is prudent to accept policies dictated by Canberra, however disagreeable they may be. Persuasion is sometimes successful in moderating those policies, but not always. Since the long-term benefits outweigh the shorter-term costs and occasional irritants, New Zealand will continue to be Australia’s closest partner, and vice versa. The current spat may persist, but it will be managed. Stephen Hoadley is a professor of international relations at the University of Auckland

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