Politics

Turnbull holds firm on deportation after Ardern meeting

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to buckle on his country’s deportation of Kiwis, claiming it is both legally and morally right to send back criminals who may never have stepped foot in New Zealand.

Turnbull and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were also questioned on their differences on nuclear proliferation and asylum seekers in a press conference mixing traditional platitudes with pressure points.

A change in Australian policy which led to the deportation of non-citizen criminals to their country of citizenship - even when they had never lived there - has caused particular strain on New Zealand in recent years.

Asked whether Australia’s policy was not just legal but morally right, Turnbull insisted it was, pointing to the “fair and just” appeals process that was in place.

“We entirely understand how keen an issue it is in New Zealand, but it is our sovereign right, as it is yours, to determine whether and in what circumstances non-citizens can remain within our borders.”

“What we’re seeking of course is to put an end to some of those cases we’re seeing where from our perspective it makes no sense for someone who’s never stepped foot in New Zealand to have been deported there.”

The Australian government’s policy did not apply just to New Zealanders, but all non-citizens who had committed serious offences, he said.

Ardern said she had again raised concern about elements of Australia’s deportation policy, but accepted the country was “well within their rights” to take a hardline approach.

After the press conference, Ardern told New Zealand media she had spoken to Turnbull “using the same language and position that I’ve done publicly” and would continue to advocate for New Zealanders’ rights.

“What we’re seeking of course is to put an end to some of those cases we’re seeing where from our perspective it makes no sense for someone who’s never stepped foot in New Zealand to have been deported there.”

China's rise an issue

China’s rise was also on the agenda, with the prime ministerial meeting came the day after a Sydney speech by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters warning of “strategic anxiety” from great powers competing in the Pacific.

Ardern and Turnbull both shied away from calling out China directly, with the New Zealand leader saying the challenges in the Pacific were “broad and many”.

“In the Pacific, those challenges are as much environmental, climate, sea level rise, resource use, the threat to fisheries, distance, as much as anything else, and it would be remiss of we narrowed our scope down into singular points.”

The leaders had discussed the role both countries could play in “advocating [for] and amplifying the voices of our Pacific neighbours” through partnerships.

“Our engagement is more intense than it has ever been. We look forward to New Zealand stepping up as well.”

Turnbull said there was “no question about our commitment” to the Pacific, with Australia the largest donor by far to the region with over $1 billion in annual aid.

“Our engagement is more intense than it has ever been. We look forward to New Zealand stepping up as well.”

Concerns about foreign investment in the Pacific were not due to the origin of any money, but the nature and quality of the projects it was put toward.

“We welcome this investment from any source, any nation, any development bank, on the basis that it is going to provide real value, supports good governance, has got a robust business plan and so forth - it's pretty straightforward.”

On the issue of Chinese interference in other countries’ politics - the subject of hot debate on both sides of the Tasman - Turnbull said he and Ardern were “at one”.

“It is critically important that the political destiny, political issues in our respective countries, are determined by our citizens - Australians in Australia and New Zealanders in New Zealand.”

His government’s changes to laws on foreign interference and donations were about ensuring political decisions were “taken by Australians for Australians”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern inspects the guard of honour for her at Admiralty House in Sydney. Photo: Penny Bradfield/AusPic.

Ardern told New Zealand media there had been no discussion about New Zealand following in Australia’s footsteps with law changes, “more a discussion actually around how we took a very similar perspective, that neither of us are immune to foreign interference issues, both of us are working on making sure that we are live to them”.

Ardern was also asked about her advocacy for early ratification of the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty, a deal which Australia has declined to sign.

She said it would be of no surprise to Australians that New Zealand had different views on nuclear weapons and proliferation, given historical differences on the issue.

“It's become part of our identity as a nation, almost to the point it probably doesn't require restatement when we are on Australian shores.”

Turnbull said the two countries’ respective positions were “a different in perspective as much as anything else”.

“In terms of the treaty that you [the media] referred to, the prohibition treaty, the weakness of it from our perspective is that the nuclear powers are not a party to it…

“We clearly, all of us, everyone would like to aspire to a world which is free of nuclear weapons but we have to focus in the here and now, that is our perspective, in a very clear ride and pragmatic way in preventing proliferation, whether it's the Korean peninsula or elsewhere and in doing so, we have to work very closely with the existing nuclear powers including the United States.”

The pair also discussed some friendlier topics, with Turnbull speaking of the “enduring bond of partnership and strength between our two nations” and Ardern saying New Zealand-Australia relations transcended normal government dealings.

Ardern said New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island still remained, while Turnbull said Australia’s “shocking experience” with people smugglers under the last government meant it would continue to take a hard line.

The pair also discussed some friendlier topics, with Turnbull speaking of the “enduring bond of partnership and strength between our two nations” and Ardern saying New Zealand-Australia relations transcended normal government dealings.

“Australia is family in the truest sense of the word and it's something we often highlight, but that's because it forms the foundation of our relationship and our friendship.”

One of the themes of Ardern’s trip was improving opportunities for SMEs, and at a lunch hosted by the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum she announced a joint work programme to remove barriers to trade and improve regulations.

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