You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Are we being Oz-tracised?

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/05/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

Are we being Oz-tracised, is our foreign minister the Bishop's pawn, do they see us as their mongrel cousins?

The latest bout of trans-Tasman tension has raised familiar public and media suspicions, usually convictions, that they don't give a toss about how Kiwis are treated in their country.

The prime minister might sometimes feel the same way.

"In the past there has been a common understanding of how we treat each other's citizens - clearly, that understanding is changing in Australia," said Bill English, the master of under-statement.

That was before Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee flew to Sydney for a meeting with his counterpart Julie Bishop, at which they agreed there was really nothing to worry about.

The relationship, said Bishop, was "one of the closest that could exist" between two countries.

She was looking forward to frequent meetings with Brownlee for "frank and open discussions".

For his part, Brownlee believed any contentious issues must be seen "in the context of the very long relationship" between the two countries and were not things that couldn't be sorted out.

The catalyst for all this was the Australian government's decision to charge New Zealand citizens full fees at universities, a budget measure that's still to be implemented.

Bishop didn't back down on that, and the government hadn't expected her to.

What had irked it was the total lack of consultation over the move and the late notice of it - ministers didn't find out about it until it had been publicly announced.

The week before there had been a similar situation involving changes to Australian citizenship rules, and whether or not they would impact on New Zealanders who are on a fast track to permanent residence under a deal brokered by the two governments last year.

English was under the gun for several days and couldn't give the media an answer.

Reading between his lines, it seemed that was because the Australians didn't know because they hadn't actually thought about it when they were making the changes.

Officials worked on it and English then put in a call to his counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, to be told there was no impact on the New Zealanders.

Opposition parties were making the most of it, and still are,

The image is easy to create. A weak government that won't stand up for Kiwis in Australia, afraid to complain about harsh treatment and unwilling to use the threat of punitive action.

There have been calls on the government to treat Australians living in New Zealand the same way Kiwis are treated over there, to get rid of preferential treatment that's not reciprocated but should be.

That's been ruled out by English and Brownlee. There are a lot more Kiwis in Australia than the other way round, and anyway we don't behave like that.

And when it comes to foreign policy, it's easy for parties in opposition to flex their muscles and talk about how tough they'd be if their hands were in government.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett knows that: "It's easy to sit on the moral high ground and be outraged, but you have to deal with realities when you're in power."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon