While she and Scott Morrison preached a family bond, economic ties and unity in the Pacific, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said deporting Kiwis from Australia is “corrosive” to the trans-Tasman relationship.
Standing next to Mr Morrison in Auckland during his first visit as PM, Ms Ardern on Friday described friendly and productive talks before launching into the contentious issue.
“In my view this issue has become corrosive in our relationship,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, standing next to Morrison on Friday after their first annual trans-Tasman meeting.
“Australia is family in every sense of the word … in any family it’s inevitable we will see things differently.”
Kiwis understood the need to deport criminals, Ms Ardern continued, but not those who had lived their lives in Australia.
“I’m sure it is a matter we will continue to discuss,” she said.
Mr Morrison defended the policy as a hallmark of his government, and as one not targeted at Kiwis specifically.
“Our government has taken a very strong line when it comes to those who are in Australia who are on visas,” he said.
“Visas are not citizenship. Visas are provided on the basis of people being compliant with those visas, and that doesn’t include committing crimes.”
He said his government will always listen and work through individual cases sensitively.
While Ms Ardern’s comments echoed what Kiwi diplomats have been arguing for months, it was the most direct public exchange between leaders so far.
Minutes later, Mr Morrison was laughing as Ms Ardern handed him a Warriors rugby league jumper – one the diehard Cronulla fan is unlikely to wear.
He in return gifted her eight-month-old daughter Neve boots and a koala toy.
And along with 30 points of agreement listed in their lengthy joint statement, they seemed to agree on regional matters, progress on trans-Tasman economic integration and joint efforts in times of natural disasters.
With both Australia and New Zealand recently turning their attention to the Pacific in the face of China’s growing influence, they pointed to combined efforts in the region.
They also jointly played down questions about whether their governments were being squeezed by Beijing, but in their statement “expressed concern with the continuing militarisation of the South China Sea and urged all claimants to take meaningful steps to ease tensions”.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison was keen to play up his own links to New Zealand where he lived in the 1990s as boss of the country’s Office of Tourism and Sport, helping create the “100 per cent pure” slogan it still uses.
He opened his statement on Friday with the Maori greeting “kia ora” and later described the traditional welcome, or powhiri, he received on Government House’s rain-soaked lawn in the morning as “very moving”.
Mr Morrison also acknowledged Friday was the eight anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people.
Following a wreath laying and two quick meetings, he returns to Australia on Friday night.