On February 28 last year Jacinda Ardern stood right next to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his home turf in Sydney and warned him to stop deporting “your people and your problems’’ to New Zealand.
The language and delivery from Ardern that day was like nothing ever seen before and she was visibly on an adrenaline-fuelled high when mingling with the press pack on the plane trip back to New Zealand shortly after.
Back then her issue was with Australia’s hardline deportation policy, which meant New Zealanders with barely any links to the country were being sent back in droves.
On Tuesday Ardern’s hands were visibly shaking as she let loose on something even more enraging.
News broke overnight Monday that a 26-year-old woman, named by the ABC as Suhayra Aden, had tried to enter Turkey illegally from Syria, along with her two children.
The woman has New Zealand citizenship and is identified as an Islamic State terrorist.
The catch here is that Aden until recently had dual citizenship and Ardern and Morrison have been in talks for years about how they would deal with her if she was ever detained or tried to return.
But in what Ardern described as a “race to revoke people’s citizenship’’ – Morrison got the jump on his trans-Tasman mate by secretly ditching the woman and her legal ties to Australia.
As Ardern delivered this development to media on Tuesday she stared point blank down the middle of the media scrum with a look of stone-cold anger on her face as she said, “you can imagine my response’’.
The woman in question was six when she left New Zealand, has family in Australia and travelled to Syria on her Australian passport.
“Our very strong view on behalf of New Zealanders was that this individual was clearly most appropriately dealt with by Australia,’’ said Ardern.
“If the shoe were on the other foot, we would take responsibility.
“That would be the right thing to do, and I ask of Australia that they do the same.’’
And then the kicker – “New Zealand frankly is tired of having Australia export its problems, but now there are two children involved’’.
Morrison won’t do anything because, much like his tough stance on deportations, it plays well to an Australian audience.
At the time Ardern learnt the woman’s Australian citizenship had been revoked she warned Morrison there would be strong language used if the matter became public.
She called him on Tuesday morning to ram home once more that she wouldn’t hold back on what she believed was an act of bad faith.
Morrison, however, doesn’t see it like that at all and has put it in the national security camp.
“My job is Australia’s interests. That’s my job. It’s my job as Australia’s Prime Minister to put Australia’s national security interests first,’’ he told media.
“The legislation that was passed through our Parliament automatically cancels the citizenship of a dual citizen when they’ve been engaged in terrorist activities of this nature.
“That happens automatically and that’s been a known part of Australia’s law for sometime,’’ he said.
In the meantime Ardern has asked officials to carry out a welfare check on the children detained at the Turkish border.
Ardern and Morrison spoke again last night, but Morrison will have picked up the phone knowing full well his actions have the backing of most Australians.
A spokesperson for Ardern says the call was “constructive”.
“Regardless of the steps taken in this case to date, both NZ and Australia acknowledge that this case now has a number of complexities.
“We are working through those issues in the spirit of our relationship”
What’s missing from that statement is any indication Morrison is prepared to budge on his position.
It speaks to the imbalance in this trans-Tasman relationship.
While Ardern took Morrison at his word and expected to deal with it collectively from a humanitarian perspective, Morrison took things into his own hands knowing his voters would agree.
Sympathising and working nicely with New Zealand doesn’t win Aussie elections.
So while Ardern can be rightly furious and show strength in lashing out like she did in Sydney that day, it doesn’t fundamentally change anything.
The woman in question is now single-handedly New Zealand’s problem and Morrison has cleared an item off his to-do-list.
Unless Ardern has some grand plan to do the one thing she has always maintained she won’t do – retaliate – Morrison has absolutely nothing to lose sleep over.