Undeterred by the possibility that Australia’s hard-line immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, could topple Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week, Winston Peters has waded into the New Zealand criminal deportation issue in a major speech in Canberra.
Even the title of the speech to the National Press Club, “Fair suck of the sav” was a reference to the Australian practice of deporting New Zealanders who have served jail sentences.
Last month, Justice Minister, Andrew Little on an ABC current affairs programme attacked the policy which includes a “good character test” under which people can be deported arbitrarily, and on which Little called the grounds “amorphous and tenuous”.
Dutton responded by saying that Little might want to reflect a little on the trans-Tasman relationship.
“There’s a lot that we do for New Zealand … We’re a big land mass between them and boats coming from Indonesia and Southeast Asia,” Dutton said.
“New Zealand don’t contribute really anything to the defence effort that we’ve got where we’re trying to surveil boats that might be on their way to New Zealand.”
But yesterday Peters was not only emphasising the importance of the trans-Tasman relationship and talking up New Zealand’s defence procurement programme but also having a go at the deportation policy.
He said that poll after poll showed that Australians and New Zealanders felt more strongly about each other than any other country.
But hat affinity did not mean we always agreed with one another.
“A hallmark of a healthy, vibrant relationship is our capacity to embrace difference and to deal with disagreement in a calm, productive fashion<” he said.
“This is true of the way in which we are approaching our differences of view over the treatment of some New Zealanders living in Australia.
“While we understand and respect your Government’s right to set its own policies on foreign criminals, many New Zealanders question the deportation of Kiwi passport holders to a country they may never really have known because they left at such a young age.
“And our attention cannot but be drawn by the deportation of people who have not yet been found guilty of crimes in an Australian court of law.
“Now, protection of the community is a core responsibility of any government and we are not suggesting these cases are clear cut.
“But New Zealanders’ sense of injustice is rooted in the fact the half a million Kiwis living in Australia are overwhelmingly contributors to your society. “
Peters said New Zealanders living in Australia had higher incomes, were more likely to be in full employment than Australian nationals and paid more taxes per head than anyone else in Australia.
“So the case for giving them a fair go – or as Australians sometimes put it – giving us a fair suck of the sav, is very strong indeed.”
Earlier Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had noted New Zealand’s purchase of four P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft which the Australians had been keen for New Zealand to buy.
Peters then dangled the possibility that New Zealand would replace what he called “the airlift capability embodied in our 1960s-era C-130 Hercules.”
But he offered no hints as to whether New Zealand would extend the army deployment to Camp Taji in Iraq where it is running a joint training programme with Australia.
“Our government faces a weighty set of decisions over our military deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sinai,” was all he would say.
He ended his speech with an update on what he is calling the “Pacific Reset”.
“In terms of diplomacy, development or defence, the New Zealand government is charting a decisive course.
“Whether it is acquiring appropriate military hardware or spending money effectively in the Pacific, we are backing our words through the investment of real resources.
“ You can expect our Government to remain forthrightly engaged on the issues that matter to us.
“We are at home in the Pacific.
“The Pacific is in our peoples DNA and has been for nigh on a thousand years.
“We belong here and not somewhere else.
“We are determined to make a difference in the wider world, and be a robust and predictable partner for all the nations in our neighbourhood and indeed for Canberra.
“It indeed is the time when we need to reflect deeply on partnership, allies, and friends.
“In this age of global power-struggle, and in this age of disinformation, we must cling to the heavily under-valued currency of loyalty, friendship, and of trust.”