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Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison before the Sydney Opera House. Photo/Getty Images

The significance of Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison's deportation showdown

For the benefit of Jacinda Ardern and the rest of us, ScoMo spells out his deportation rule.

Fittingly, it was Australia’s great stage, the Sydney Opera House, that formed the backdrop when Jacinda Ardern publicly rounded on her host, Scott Morrison, over the vexed issue of Australia’s Kiwi deportations.

Much in the harbourside joint press conference the two prime ministers conducted late last month was theatre. Both were working off an agreed script; Ardern had told Morrison at their closed-door meeting within the Australian Prime Minister’s official Sydney waterfront residence, Kirribilli House, what she intended to tell the press pack waiting outside. She also knew what Morrison would say.

Her now much-discussed riposte to Morrison’s refusal to back down on forcing Kiwi criminals back to New Zealand – no matter how long they’ve lived in Australia – was unusually sharp for one aimed at the fellow Prime Minister standing next to her: “Send back Kiwis – genuine Kiwis. Do not deport your people and your problems.”

Morrison had a well-rehearsed response: “The Australian Government’s policy is very clear – we deport non-citizens who have committed crimes in Australia against our community. You commit a crime here, if convicted, once you have done your time, we send you home.”

That last word – home – gifted Ardern the illustration she needed to explain why Australia’s blanket deportation policy was wrong. She told Morrison and the assembled Australian and New Zealand media that many of the 2000 New Zealand-born law-breaking deportees “have no network, they have grown up in Australia. That is their home and that is where they should stay.”

Her Australian counterpart’s hollow invitation for New Zealanders living in Australia to become citizens as protection against deportation denied the reality that, for many, especially those who arrived after early 2001, seeking citizenship is a long, frustrating and often futile process stacked against those with low skills and incomes. Besides, about 200,000 people of all nationalities are already in the queue. The wait for processing applications is up to two years.

For New Zealanders, the increasingly chilly welcome on crossing the Tasman seems no accident and the evidence suggests it is rooted in Australia’s long discomfort with Pacific people’s migration from New Zealand. Australia denies this.

However, Gary Hardgrave, who was Australia’s Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs under John Howard, admitted a few years ago that the country’s 2001 decision to end a range of social security and other benefits for arriving Kiwis was designed specifically to persuade people from Pacific islands to stay away.

He told Channel Nine’s A Current Affair: “The idea of not giving them access to these benefits was to say, ‘Hey, don’t come.’ They’ve still come anyway.”

Unsurprisingly, the withdrawal of benefits has left many New Zealanders living on the margins in Australia. Plenty of people – New Zealanders included – will argue that those who have come since 2001 knew the rules and have only themselves to blame.

And plenty of Australians will say the same of the criminal deportation policy. It’s not unhelpful to Morrison and his hard-line Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, that at least 60% of New Zealand deportees are Māori or Pacific people.

Nor is that unhelpful to New Zealand National Party leader Simon Bridges; the arming of New Zealand’s gangs and their involvement in the drug trade have accelerated with the arrival of hardened criminals shipped home from Australia, delivering Bridges a potent law-and-order platform.

Ardern can’t change Australia’s policy. But she will remember the script. Her re-election might depend on it.

New Zealander Bernard Lagan is the Australian correspondent for the Times, London.

This article was first published in the March 21, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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