NZ breathes sigh of relief at Australia’s choice of PM

Australia Morrison PM
New Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, congratulates Josh Frydenberg who was selected as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. (Photo: Whochit News)

24 August 2018

Audrey Young – Political editor, NZ Herald

New Zealand is not meant to get involved in the politics of another country, especially not our best friend’s.

But there was a collective sigh of relief across New Zealand that Scott Morrison beat Peter Dutton for the Liberal Party leadership in Australia and has become Prime Minister.

You could almost hear the relief in the voice of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as she was questioned about the result at her press conference on Friday afternoon.

That is genuine and no surprise given his association with New Zealand. He lived in Wellington in the late 1990s running a controversial quango that Sports and Tourism Minister Murray McCully set up to sell New Zealand as a sports and tourism destination to the world.

He was caught in the middle of a political war between McCully and Labour’s sports spokesman at the time, Trevor Mallard, Morrison told the Herald: “I have no interest in New Zealand politics.”

Mallard attacked Morrison as being McCully’s “hard man” and said that in his experience that rules and ethics were not as important to Australian politicians as they were to New Zealanders.

Morrison has a good sense of humour and perspective, and he and Mallard have since had a good laugh about it when they met each other again recently in Canberra.

Mallard visited in his capacity as Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament.

More recently, Morrison as Treasurer worked closely with Sir Bill English and Steven Joyce when they were Finance Minister and incumbent Grant Robertson.

It doesn’t mean New Zealand’s complaints about Australia will disappear.

The current irritants – including the deportation of New Zealand-born criminals who have barely lived here – have flourished under a Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull who had a great fondness for New Zealand.

Turnbull, to give him his due, made changes to citizenship rules in New Zealand’s favour.

But if Peter Dutton had won, relations between New Zealand and Australia may well have worsened.

Dutton had used the Kiwi deportees and New Zealand’s offer to take some of Australia’s asylum seekers to raise his profile for an eventual bid at the Liberal leadership.

Morrison is no bleeding-heart liberal. He started the stop-the-boats policy as Tony Abbott’s Immigration Minister. He is a committed Christian and is from the conservative wing of the party but has worked closely and loyally for the liberal Turnbull.

There may not be any difference in approach to New Zealand between the Morrison Government and the Turnbull Government. But the transition should be smooth – and would be seamless were he to keep Julie Bishop in Foreign Affairs.

He has only nine months at the most before the next election, and New Zealand is not likely to be a priority.

But in the work that will be done jointly before then, in getting the CPTPP trade deal up and running, at the Pacific Islands Forum, Apec and the East Asia Summit, New Zealand has a head start with Morrison.

[Read the NZ Herald article].

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