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Undermining NZ: Dutton's refugee ploy

  • 20 November 2017


New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) has made finding a solution to the Manus Island standoff a priority. The remaining refugees and asylum seekers of the Lombrom Naval Base insist that their new locations in Lorengau closer to community areas will be unsafe, and refuse to leave.

During this crisis, the Turnbull government has become visibly irritated at Ardern's offer to accept 150 men from the centre. Such indignation was going to be hard to avoid. The New Zealand Labour Party had been accused by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for undue interference regarding the dual citizenship of Barnaby Joyce. Egg had to be promptly cleared off her face once Ardern formed government.

Given Australian coolness to the NZ refugee offer, Ardern has taken a different tack: approach the Papua New Guinean government for an independent arrangement, cutting out the intransigent middle man. Australian immigration minister, Peter Dutton, was far from impressed, adopting a threatening pose. New Zealand, he promised, 'would have to think about their relationship with Australia and what impact it would have'. 'They'd have to think that through, and we'd have to think that through.'

Dutton was so unimpressed as to directly question the judgment of New Zealand's prime minister. The offer, for instance, to supply up to $3 million to the PNG government to assist the refugees was 'a waste of money in my judgment, I mean give that money to another environment somewhere, to Indonesia, for example'.

Having berated Ardern's choices and suggestions, Dutton then did what Australian politicians in the past have done to their New Zealand colleagues: insist upon ample gratitude. 'We', exclaimed Dutton, 'have stopped vessels on their way across the Torres Strait planning to track their way down the east coast of Australia to New Zealand.' This had taken 'many hundreds of millions of dollars into a defence effort to stop those vessels ... We do that frankly without any financial assistance from New Zealand.'

Australian papers and media outlets have also been mobilised to undermine New Zealand refugee policy. Classified material had supposedly found its way to Brisbane's Courier Mail, registering 'chatter' from people smugglers pointing the finger to New Zealand as a richer target. Suddenly, it seems, Australia's Border Protection Force had gotten busier, intercepting four vessels, carrying 164 people destined for New Zealand — another reason for Auckland to be respectful.

The Turnbull government has also adopted another approach. If it cannot directly change Ardern's mind,