Wikipedia reckons the Tran-Tasman Travel arrangement – which lets NZers and Australians move travel freely between countries and creates an open labour market between us – dates back to 1973.
Which has been incredibly useful to New Zealand. It’s kept our unemployment artificially low, especially in the 2000s during Australia’s mining boom.
Back in ’73 the countries were fairly comparable; there was something of a relationship between equals. Forty years later Australia is a lot wealthier than New Zealand and it perceives itself as regional super-power. To reflect the power imbalance they seem to be gradually re-litigating the TTTA to reflect that inequality. Back in 2001 they created a special ‘non protected’ category of residency visa for NZers in Australia that excluded them from accessing social support like benefits and student loans.
Now they have a criminal deportation policy that repatriates resident visa holders with criminal records, which is fair enough, I suppose, but because of the visa status of New Zealanders in Australia it means they’re rounding up people who have lived in Australia for most of their lives and shipping them back here.
The NZ government absolutely hates this policy (so I’m told), but it is popular in Australia and the government there has no reason or inclination to change it.
Which is interesting because two of the things the press gallery likes to celebrate about John Key is that he’s a ‘dealmaker’ and that he’s good at building relationships with international players. But if he’s made one single good deal in the seven years he’s been Prime Minister then I am not aware of it. He IS good at building relationships with people like the new Australian PM, which the gallery reckons are very valuable, but so far none of these relationships have actually been worth anything whatsoever.
So it’s not Key’s fault that the Australian’s have implemented this policy; but he is Prime Minister during a time in which our relationship with our closest ally is deteriorating further, and he gets to wear that. That’s why the opposition are gleefully attacking him over his inability to reverse the policy or intervene on Christmas Island.
Like Rob Salmond, the first thing I thought of when Key accused Labour and the Greens of ‘backing rapists’ etc was Lynton Crosby’s ‘dead cat’ technique for changing the conversation. The motivation was probably Kelvin Davis going on Morning Report yesterday and calling Key ‘weak’ for his failure to stand up for New Zealanders. Rather than have the line repeated on the TV news Key decided to project strength in the House by abusing the opposition. Now instead of calling Key ‘weak’ the opposition are complaining about him being mean to them. Goal achieved.
People on twitter who saw it all unfold in Question Time have been angry about the way the gallery reported the story. I get that. But Key’s team is really, really good at exploiting the systemic flaws of the press gallery to shape the political narrative. Stunts like this are difficult for them to cover because the stunt only happens because of the way the gallery will cover it. To truly explain what had happened and why journalists would have to say something like, ‘The Prime Minister said this because he knew that we would say that he said it.’
Here’s an example. Mid-way through Key’s performance he yelled ‘Labour can back child molesterers (sic) and murderers, I’m backing New Zealanders.’ The line doesn’t make any sense in the context of the debate, because – as Key has pointed out – the detainees on Christmas Island are New Zealand citizens who can come back to New Zealand whenever they want, and Labour are arguing for their right to stay in Australia. But the line was great theatre so it made the news on both TV stations where it no doubt sounded pretty good to the majority of viewers who don’t know the details of the issue. The only reason Key said something so non-nonsensical is because he knew the gallery TV journalists would play the line without analysing its non-sensicality.
The print columnists could write about this stuff though, and explain what’s going on. People like Gordon Campbell and Matthew Hooton do. I’m not sure why the newspaper columnists don’t – maybe they’re so much a part of the process they don’t see it? So much of contemporary politics is political communications; pundits who pretend that it isn’t, and that they’re impartial observers calling it from outside the system, are basically irrelevant.
Things aren’t all bad though. TV3’s Patrick Gower read from a list supplied to him by Key’s office numerating the number of murderers and child molesters, etc, that they claim are on Christmas Island. The list didn’t stack up for an instant and my twitter feed became a flood of outrage. TVNZ was almost certainly given the list too – their audience is many times larger than TV3’s – but they didn’t cover it, presumably because they knew they were being played. So there is some judgement going on, sometimes.