It has been a bad year for the A.N.Z.A.C. relationship on which so much of Australia and New Zealand rests. Rows over the treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia long term; the detaining of New Zealanders in dysfunctional detention centres on Nauru and the ongoing absence of a legal path to Australian citizenship have made for turbulent trans-Tasman relations in 2015. Now two weeks into 2016, it has emerged that Australia has been sending criminally insane New Zealanders back without telling New Zealand authorities.
Unfortunately there is more than just a societal paranoia of foreigners at work in Australia. There is a state sanctioned mistrust of their motives, their morals and their culture and it extends all the way to the Prime Ministers office. It is ably aided and abetted by the Minister of Immigration Peter Dutton and his inflammatory former boss and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It is made worse by the rise of xenophobic militant individuals and groups such as Reclaim Australia who think that foreigners are destroying the country, but when challenged for facts and figures, struggle to give a coherent answer.
A relationship has at least two people or parties involved, or in this case two nations. To work both sides must agree on common principles and how to deal with issues that may arise around them. For the most part New Zealanders and Australians are still the best of mates when it does not involve sport, still consider each other to be their best ally in a war. But when it comes to living in each others countries, it is like getting two magnets to make contact. Whereas New Zealand allows Australians to become permanent residents and progress to citizens, there is no legal path that a New Zealander can follow to become an Australian citizen, which nationals from other countries can do.
New Zealand needs to push back by telling Australia that no further progress on enhancing economic and social ties is possible until New Zealanders are accorded the same rights before Australian immigration law as nationals from other countries. Foreign Minister Murray McCully needs to be using meetings with his counter part Julie Bishop to point out the bias, as does Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy whenever he meets his counterpart Peter Dutton. We might be A.N.Z.A.C. mates, but right now the spirit is sadly missing in action and no one seems to know where to find it.
However I am not hopeful. Prime Minister John Key has little of the spinal fortitude New Zealanders like to think their politicians have. 20 years of inaction for fear of offending Australia have allowed things to slowly deteriorate. With National in what could well be its final term in office, it might be for whomever succeeds this Government to restore a semblance of balance in a trans-Tasman relationship that appears to be in retrograde.