Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021

‘Those far from here seeking to divide us’: Scott Morrison quashes claim of transtasman differences over China

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shunned any suggestion that there are differences between Australia and New Zealand over China.

And he has downplayed any prospect of war with China, following comments from Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that a conflict with China was a possibility that should not be discounted.

At a press conference with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern following their bilateral talks in Queenstown today, Morrison was invited to express any concerns over New Zealand’s stance on China.

This follows Australian media stories about New Zealand being “soft” on China, including 60 Minutes Australia episode last night that portrayed New Zealand as putting profit ahead of decency; China’s trade restrictions on Australia have cost the country $49 billion.

But Morrison said there was no difference between New Zealand’s and Australia’s respective stances when it came to China’s trade and human rights issues.

“There will be those who would seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand’s security by seeking to create points of difference, which are not there,” Morrison said.

“As great partners, friends, allies and deep family, there will be those far from here who would seek to divide us, and they will not succeed.”

He would not say if he was referring to China, adding: “People always try to divide Australia and New Zealand – all over the place.”

Ardern asked for examples to show where Australia and New Zealand were expressing different positions on China.

“I think you’ll find very little difference in many of messages we’ve been sending relative to Australia.”

New Zealand has declined three times to sign Five Eyes statements on China, but on two of those occasions it released joint statements with Australia about China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims and Hong Kong.

“I really push back on any suggestion that we are not taking a strong stance on these incredibly important issues,” Ardern said.

“When it comes to the matter of Five Eyes, we remain a committed member. That is not in question, not in doubt.”

She added that New Zealand was pulling its weight in terms of global security efforts.

“We carry responsibility for ourselves to ensure adequate investment in our defence forces, and equally that we carry our weight as a member of the intelligence and security community.

“I reject any suggestion that we don’t carry and deliver on our behalf, and towards the international community.”

Morrison agreed, saying that Australia and New Zealand had different but complementary capabilities.

“That interoperability has been on display in so many theatres of conflict and peacekeeping and emergency response all around the world, and particularly in our region,” Morrison said.

“It’s our job as prime ministers to ensure that that comes together in the best way possible for the security of our own nations and our own national interests, but also in the broader family role that we have across the Pacific.”

Ardern said opening the transtasman travel bubble to more Pacific nations was a possibility – but safety concerns meant the bar was “very high”.

The US and China were competing for global influence, but Morrison said that didn’t necessarily mean an armed conflict was more likely.

“Our shared view would be that such strategic competition doesn’t need to lead to increased likelihood of conflict or other pressures, whether they be coercion of any nature or interference.

“That is not necessary.”

A free, open and peaceful Indo-Pacific region was what both New Zealand and Australia wanted, he said.

“Of course, the world has risks of conflict and tension. Our efforts are designed to mitigate that, to calibrate against that, and to ensure we’re working together for a more peaceful Indo-Pacific where we acknowledge the realities of strategic competition, but do not accept as any foregone conclusion where that competition may lead to.”

Ardern and Morrison exchanged soccer jerseys at the start of their press conference in recognition of the successful bid for New Zealand and Australia to co‑host the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.

They also released a 51-point joint statement, which included an easier pathway to Australian citizenship for Kiwis living across the Tasman.

From July 1, Kiwis will be able to apply for skilled independent permanent residence in Australia after reaching the minimum income threshold for three years instead of four.

“Prime Ministers also welcomed Australia’s flexibility for applicants whose income or time offshore was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and looked forward to a further review of the pathway visa in 2022,” the statement said.

Ardern repeated her view that Australia shouldn’t be deporting 501s who had little to do with New Zealand beyond a New Zealand passport.

Such a policy essentially meant “Australian criminals” were being sent to New Zealand, she said.

“Prime Minister Morrison is in no doubt on my views on these matters,” Ardern said.

Morrison said the policy wasn’t aimed at New Zealand, as citizens of other countries were equally eligible for deportation if they broke the law in Australia.

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