Compared to Jacinda Ardern, Malcolm Turnbull should have it easy.
NZ’s new PM Ardern is in the first couple of weeks of a minority government, formed through the centrist NZ First party which, among other things, is cautious on immigration.
Turnbull, by contrast, started his current term leading a majority-held government. The margin was small, and certainly seems more tenuous now given the citizenship saga affecting a number of MPs.
But already Ardern is showing the kind of leadership we haven’t seen from Turnbull since he was gunning for Tony Abbott’s then prime mininstership.
Yesterday while meeting Turnbull, Ardern re-instated New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from Manus Island.
There are nearly 600 men on Manus who have barricaded themselves into a facility that now has no running water, food or electricity. They are refusing to move to new facilities due to security concerns, including fears they will be attacked in the local community.
But Ardern’s offer to help? To give some hope to at least 150 of the men who’ve been in limbo for four years? Turnbull mostly rejected it.
“We are not taking it up, at this time,” he said during a press conference with the NZ PM on Sunday, leaving the door slightly open for when there may, somehow, be a better time for these men.
Turnbull added that Australia is currently pursuing an agreement with the United States to resettle a more “substantial number, 1250” such refugees, subject to the US’ “rigorous vetting” processes.
And we know how well that is going.
So far, 54 men have been resettled in the US deal first penned between Turnbull and former president Barack Obama. In Turnbull’s now infamous first call with President Donald Trump, the two men argued over the “stupid” deal, with Trump declaring, “this deal will make me look terrible.”
To say Ardern has been more genuine that Trump in her offer to help is an understatement. She does this despite the move not necessarily being popular within the government she has managed to form.
“We do not have the circumstances that Australia is dealing with but we also can not ignore the human face of what Australia is dealing with,” she said. “So the offer is very genuine and absolutely remains on the table.”
Still, Turnbull wants nothing, or at least little, of it. “That is our commitment,” Turnbull said on the US agreement. “We want to pursue those arrangements and then in the wake of that, obviously we can consider other ones.”
For Turnbull’s final hold on leadership, it may be personally beneficial to have long, complicated arrangements to pursue.
During the press conference, Turnbull had a polite and friendly exchange with Ardern. He offered plenty of praise for NZ, declaring “we’re family”, and at one point saying “we have a lot to learn from NZ.”
We really do.