Foreign Affairs

NZ employs ‘barbecue diplomacy’ with new Aussie PM

Jacinda Ardern says Australia has more awareness of New Zealand’s position on trans-Tasman issues than when she took office.

A year ago, Jacinda Ardern’s strong stance on the resettlement of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru was the overriding issue when she met former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the first time.

Since then, New Zealand has consistently raised its concerns around Australia-based Kiwis being deported, after being charged or convicted. In some cases the people have had no real connection to New Zealand – something Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little have criticised.

Ardern has also consistently reiterated New Zealand’s offer to resettle up to 150 refugees from Manus Island or Nauru – an offer that is still on the table, but has been passed over in favour of a potential resettlement outcome with the United States.

One year on, Ardern has had her first face-to-face meeting with new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and she used so-called “barbecue diplomacy” to try and gain traction on the issues that continue to plague the trans-Tasman relationship.

Barbecue diplomacy

The pair had a 30-minute bilateral meeting in Singapore on the fringes of the ASEAN and East Asia Summit (EAS), on Wednesday night.

Ardern opened the meeting talking about a very Australian issue: sausage sizzles.

“I think we should make a joint commitment that on our watches the Bunnings sausage sizzle shall continue,” she said.

“I agree, I agree,” he replied. “Onions on top, or underneath, however you like.”

The comments came off the back of the Bunnings hardware chain in Australia dictating onions now had to go underneath the sausage, to stop them falling on the ground, and causing a slip hazard.

This isn't the first time Ardern has used the humble barbecue to help build relationships. Earlier in the year, during her visit to Northland for Waitangi Day, she and her ministers fired up the barbie for locals.


While the pair had time to break the ice with their sausage sizzle chat, Ardern said she did not have time to raise the issue of the Manus or Nauru refugees.

In her afternoon press conference she made a point of saying 30 minutes was not enough time to raise every issue, but planned to catch Morrison in the corridors during the EAS in Singapore or at APEC in Port Moresby later in the week.

It’s possible Ardern decided to leave this issue off the agenda for the bilateral, with the hope Morrison would be more receptive in a less formal setting.

Ardern said neither country had changed its position on the refugee issue, but she still intended to raise it.

After a year in office for Ardern, there seems to be no notable change from Australia on the issues of citizenship, deportations, or the refugee resettlement.

But the needling had counted for something.

“I do think that there is certainly a heightened awareness of our sensitivities around things like deportations.

“There’s certainly a full awareness of our perspective on issues like Manus and Nauru. But actually there is some very productive work going on.”

Ardern said Morrison had acknowledged her comments on deportations - especially her concerns about specific cases where the people had no real link to New Zealand.

Australia will have an election next year, which could lead to another change of PM. No matter who is at the helm, Ardern says it's up to her to maintain the relationship on behalf of NZ. Photo: Prime Minister's Office/Supplied


The pair also spoke about their reorientation of involvement in the Pacific region.

Ardern did not specfically discuss China’s role in the region during her bilateral with Morrison, but focused on New Zealand’s Pacific Reset.

“The Pacific Reset for New Zealand was around our view that we are members of the Pacific, we have long, enduring relationships. Our activity needs to reflect that.

“We have in the past had that donor-donee relationship, when really it should be a partnership. That’s the approach we’ve taken... And separately we now have Scott Morrison talking about their desire separately to step up in the Pacific Region as well.”

Trans-Tasman relations

Ardern said the trans-Tasman relationship was just as strong as it was when she took office.

“It’s incredibly important that I maintain that relationship on behalf of New Zealand, and that depth of relationship.”

The reception from Morrison was “warm”, she said, adding it was hard to find anything closer than New Zealand’s relationship with Australia.

“It’s also hard to find any relationship that has the same friendly rivalry that we have, as well.

“But that depth of relationship means we can raise issues when they arise. We can raise when there are particular policies that have raised issues for us, and I think that’s really important.”

The meeting comes the same day Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced former Labour minister Dame Annette King as High Commissioner to Australia. 

The move has been long-signalled, and Peters described King as working on "one of New Zealand's most significant relationships".

“The trans-Tasman bond is exceptionally strong, however, the relationship is not something we take for granted, and the new High Commissioner will be tasked with keeping the connections strong,” he said.

As is the custom between New Zealand and Australian prime ministers, the pair exchanged gifts.

Ardern gave Morrison – a former tourism boss in New Zealand and Australia – a bottle of Central Otago pinot noir, and he gifted her a silver platter made by a Melbourne artist.

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