Jacinda Ardern will meet Australia’s new prime minister this week, with the controversial 501 deportation policy near the top of her agenda. Video / Mark Mitchell 7 June 2022
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will fly to Australia this week to meet with new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with whom she has pledged to raise the contentious issue of 501 deportees.
Ardern said, if necessary, she would be as forceful with Albanese on the issue of 501s as she was with former prime minister Scott Morrison.
Albanese was sworn in a fortnight ago, and has already made official visits to Japan and Indonesia, but he has yet to receive a foreign head of government in Australia – Ardern will be the first.
“Australia is our closest international relationship and it is traditional to meet the incoming prime minister as soon as possible after their election,” Ardern said.
“Given our close relationship, I’m pleased I’ll be the first, as I understand, head of government to meet with the Prime Minister in Australia since he took office a few weeks ago,” Ardern said.
Ardern had been under pressure to make a visit to meet Albanese, but she had been unable to visit sooner as she was in the United States visiting US President Joe Biden. She will travel to Australia on Thursday and meet Albanese for an informal dinner that night before a formal meeting the next day.
Ardern last visited Australia formally in 2020, leaving the day New Zealand recorded its first Covid-19 case.
At the Prime Minister’s Sydney Residence, Ardern told Morrison “not deport your people and your problems” to New Zealand, referencing the 501s deportation policy which saw people with little connection or history in New Zealand deported from Australia. It is often accused of inflaming gang tensions in New Zealand.
Ardern said the meeting was an opportunity for “new conversations to be had on aspects of the bilateral relationship that have been difficult for a number of years, namely elements of Australia’s deportation policy and the rights of New Zealanders in Australia”.
Ardern did not say whether she had been given any indication of a significant change to Australia’s 501 policy.
“I have been very clear with any Australian administration that this is a significant issue for New Zealand.
“We accept Australia has a deportation policy because New Zealand has a deportation policy – our concern has been the really extreme examples, those who have little to no connection to New Zealand being deported to New Zealand. We see the consequences of their antisocial behaviour and that lack of connection here at home,” Ardern said.
“We’ve been clear with the incoming Prime Minister that these issues remain for us, regardless of who’s in office. We want to make progress,” Ardern said.
Ardern said she had met Albanese a number of times through connections forged in the international labour movement. Albanese leads Australia’s Labor party, New Zealand Labour’s sister party. Albanese had even visited her electorate in Auckland in the past.
She said she would be willing to talk as tough with Albanese as she did with Morrison, although she would probably take a softer position with Albanese at first, given it was their first meeting.
“Absolutely – this is an issue for New Zealand that reaches beyond political parties,” Ardern said.
She said she took that tough stance with Morrison having raised the issue repeatedly without success.
Ardern suggested that because this was her first official meeting with Albanese, she would not escalate to the position she did with Morrison.
“This is my first engagement with the Prime Minister. It will be a positive one. I will raise these issues, but let’s see where we can take them,” she said.
Ardern said that “despite some of the tension we have had” the relationship remains “deep”.
Ardern said the agenda would also include “climate change, the US-backed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and the upcoming Pacific Island Forum”.
Ardern said the new Australian government has exhibited a “step change” in “policy and rhetoric on climate change”.
Albanese’s government wants to lift Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target to a reduction of 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
Ardern said that while she did not want to comment on climate change policies of other nations, Australia’s new focus would be “welcomed” by the Pacific region.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson will also travel to Australia on Thursday to meet with Australia’s new Treasurer, Jim Chalmers.
“Both Australia and New Zealand’s economies are being challenged by global headwinds, including higher inflation, supply chain constraints, the ongoing Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine,” Robertson said.
“The Australian Government has also indicated it will introduce wellbeing aspects into the Australian budget process, which New Zealand has been doing since 2019, so I am keen to discuss the Treasurer’s plans,” Robertson said.
Ardern announced she would host Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa in New Zealand this week.
It will be Mataʻafa’s first official trip offshore since becoming Prime Minister last year.
Ardern said she will host a number of community engagements and will celebrate 60 years of close diplomatic relations with New Zealand on 14 June.
Ardern said she was “delighted” to host the visit.
“We are first and foremost a Pacific nation and this will be another important opportunity to discuss the key issues affecting our region,” Ardern said.