It turns out even a global pandemic isn’t enough to simmer the trans-Tasman strains.
In the last couple of weeks the potshots being fired from one side of the ditch to the other have ramped up so much you can almost see the trenches being dug either side of the Tasman Sea.
There’s been nothing new about what Ardern and her counterpart Scott Morrison disagree on and for the most part it hasn’t affected Kiwis’ day-to day lives.But that’s changed now the trans-Tasman bubble has been dragged into it.
“If the New Zealand government doesn’t wish Australians to visit New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington, or other parts of a country, that’s a matter for them, it has always been a matter for them.”
– Scott Morrison
For nine months talks have been underway to resume normal transmission between Australia and New Zealand – that’s long enough to have a baby, as Opposition leader Judith Collins pointed out.
In the last week Morrison has got vocal about Australia’s readiness for that bubble – an obvious hint to New Zealand to hurry up.
“If the New Zealand government doesn’t wish Australians to visit New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington, or other parts of a country, that’s a matter for them, it has always been a matter for them,’’ he said.
China, trade, climate change, deportations, Covid border closures national security and how to deal with radicalised citizens returning home … Do Australia and New Zealand now disagree on more things than they agree on? Click here to comment.
Seven days later and Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins randomly launched into details about a shift away from a joint framework with Australia, on how and when a bubble might open and close.
That happened in February after Australia backed out of an almost finalised deal, he says.
Now it’s back to the drawing board with both countries working on a unilateral approach.
That means how each country deals with public health measures as critical as contact tracing, testing and lockdowns, in a bubble environment, are all back on the table.
It raises questions as to why Hipkins, who gets asked by media every single day about progress on the bubble, only decided to bring it up now.
Hipkins told Newsroom it had nothing to do with taking an opportunity to blame Australia for the lack of progress at a time when the Government is under increasing political and public pressure over border closures.
He also denied it had anything to do with Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton upping the ante by referring to the transfer of deportees across the Tasman as “taking the trash out’’.
But it’s hard to see why Hipkins would drop that nugget of information for any other reason than because it’s in the Government’s interests to do so now.
Especially given the two countries seem to have next to nothing they can agree on.
On a multilateral level they’re are at odds over how to deal with China, trade and climate change.
Then there’s deportation policies, the bubble and national security – specifically how to deal with radicalised citizens returning home – creating problems at a bilateral level.
There seems to be much more disagreement than common ground, prompting Collins to label it the worst the relationship has been in 40 years, saying not since the Muldoon days has it been this bad.
But ask a senior Government Minister if there’s a problem between the two countries and they’ll be quick to deny it.
It’s becoming less and less clear what they’re basing that on as the stack of splits and divisions mount up.
While there are some things Kiwis and Aussies will never agree on (pavlova and Phar Lap spring to mind) getting on the same page as to how to reunite families separated for more than a year needs some urgent attention.