In a volatile political climate globally, it’s never been more important to keep your friends close.
But Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, appeared to miss the memo yesterday, as she laid into our closest (arguably most innocuous) ally, New Zealand.
It followed after news broke that Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, the poster boy for country Australia, held dual citizenship as a Kiwi, putting him in breach of section 44 of the constitution.
— Amber Heard (@realamberheard) August 14, 2017
Though Fairfax Media had been the first ones hot on Joyce’s trail, it later emerged that an unnamed staffer in ALP Senator, Penny Wong’s office had also been doing some digging. The plucky staffer had contacted NZ Labour MP Chris Hipkins, to make some enquiries into the country’s citizenship laws.
The allegations were confirmed by Wong in a statement yesterday, though she denied that the questions had anything to do with Joyce’s individual case.
“A staff member in my office had informal discussions with New Zealand friends about domestic political issues, including the Section 44 debate,” she said.
“At no point did he make any request to raise the issue of dual citizenship in Parliament, a fact confirmed today by Mr Hipkins and the New Zealand Labor Leader.”
“As Mr Hipkins has said ‘the question was not asked on behalf of Australian Labor’”.
But the revelation was enough to incense the Australian LNP, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, quickly accusing Bill Shorten of attempting to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power.
Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop’s reaction was even worse. In a press conference yesterday, she reprimanded the New Zealand Labour Party and threatened that diplomatic ties would be weakened should they win government at the next election.
“New Zealand is facing an election. Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia” she said.
The threat was not lost on NZ’s Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern who fired back an equally hostile response.
“It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party,” she said.
“I have been utterly transparent about this situation. I stand by my statements this morning that I knew absolutely nothing about the Barnaby Joyce case until it broke in the media yesterday afternoon.”
She also described allegations of a Labour/Labor conspiracy as ‘utter nonsense’.
I value our relationship with the Australian Govt highly. I won’t let disappointing & false claims stand in the way of that relationship
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) August 15, 2017
There is no doubt that Bishop’s impulsive reaction (seemingly taken straight from the Trumpian handbook) was damaging. New Zealand is one of our closest neighbours and strongest diplomatic allegiances. Plunging that relationship into uncertainty, unnecessarily is reckless.
But more than that, her response was juvenile, clumsy and transparent. Laying blame and pointing the finger at the other side, was never going to take the heat off the government.
There is no avoiding the ugly truth. If Joyce loses his High Court challenge, Turnbull is in deep, deep trouble.