Peter Dutton Jacinda Ardern
(Images: AAP/Sam Mooy, David Alexander)

Imagine if Peter Dutton and Nine News stirred up a trans-Tasman diplomatic stoush and nobody in Australia cared?

That’s the situation we’re in now. 

On Tuesday Nine was given exclusive access by Australian Border Force to a normally secret deportation flight taking convicted criminals from Brisbane to Auckland. Reporter Jordan Fabris harangued deportees on the tarmac in truly classless tabloid style. 

“How does it feel to be kicked out of Australia?” he asked.

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Nine then featured Dutton offering up his own bit of typical jingoistic chest-thumping.

“It’s taking the trash out, then we can make Australia a safer place,” Dutton said. 

The soundbite has been met with fury among politicians and the media in New Zealand, where Australia’s post-2014 policy of deporting New Zealand citizens convicted of crimes, even if they are long-term residents of Australia, is a real sore point. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said the policy is “corrosive” to the relationship. And given that history, Dutton’s recent comment was always going to enrage the Kiwis.

The political response

Ardern was as diplomatic as she could be in the face of the starchy tuber’s comments, saying she didn’t want to get into “tit for tat”. 

Other politicians were more blunt. Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Dutton’s comments “only serve to trash his own reputation”. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins got in a bit of trouble for accusing Australia of “exporting its garbage” to New Zealand. 

He later stepped back from calling deportees garbage, saying that was Dutton’s language, but did call the Australian government’s actions “deplorable”.

NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins said the relationship between Australia and New Zealand was the worst it had been in many years. 

“We cannot be the dumping ground for everything wrong that’s happened in Australia with people and criminal behaviour,” she said. 

Why are they so mad?

You might’ve guessed it, but New Zealand is pretty mad about Australia’s deportations. That’s because the deportees, called 501ers in New Zealand after the relevant section of the Migration Act, are often people who left New Zealand as children and spent most of their life in Australia before committing a crime.

Since returning to New Zealand, some deportees have been involved in notorious underworld gangs, while others, alienated from their networks in Australia, have been plagued by unemployment, depression and suicide. 

Despite Dutton’s demonising of deportees, many are people with non-violent drug offences, who are now being sent back to a foreign country, and harassed by Nine reporters on the way out the door. 

It’s little wonder Dutton’s comments were also big news over the ditch. The New Zealand Herald called them “incendiary”.

“Yet another crack in the increasingly fraught Trans-Tasman relationship,” wrote one journalist on Newshub.

A PR expert told the Newshub it was yet another example of Dutton playing to the domestic Australian audience.

“They love it over there. It’s the same thing as Christmas Island — put the boot in,” she said. 

In Stuff it was spun as Scott Morrison responding to the never ending pressure over the Christian Porter rape allegations with a spot of Kiwi-bashing.

If only the domestic media cared enough to make that true.

This week, Scott Morrison hasn’t faced a single question about the deportation issue. It’s a sign that while New Zealand is furious, Australia simply does not care.