PM’s first steps on world stage


When our politi­cians earn neg­a­tive press on the in­ter­na­tional stage, this rarely seems to af­fect their popularity at home.

The oc­ca­sional goofy an­tics of John Key for in­stance, may have been prime fod­der for colum­nists and co­me­di­ans in the UK and US – the Guardian news­pa­per even had a file on Key gaffes – but they barely caused a rip­ple in Key’s popularity rat­ings within New Zealand. Es­sen­tially, we like it when for­eign­ers like our lead­ers, but if they don’t, then too bad.

Early days yet, but Jacinda Ardern’s ad­vent on the in­ter­na­tional stage has re­ceived pos­i­tive cov­er­age from CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian, de­spite a few snip­ings from Aus­tralia’s me­dia chau­vin­ists.

The fate of the Manus Is­land refugees has put the spot­light onto New Zealand, and our long­stand­ing of­fer to help to re­solve the is­sue. For the first time in what seems like decades, a New Zealand PMhas been forth­right about the poli­cies of our al­lies across the Tas­man, which has been be­hav­ing like a rogue state in the re­gion. Ba­si­cally, Aus­tralia has flouted its obli­ga­tions un­der the UN Refugee Con­ven­tion, put the lives of 600 refugees at risk, and un­der­mined the rule of law in Pa­pua New Guinea – and then sim­ply walked away from the mess it cre­ated.

Ardern will have her work cut out. The Turn­bull gov­ern­ment has been in­tran­si­gent on the refugees is­sue. For the same cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, the Aus­tralian La­bor Party has been no bet­ter. Be­yond Aus­tralia, New Zealand’s uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to con­sider Pa­cific peo­ple displaced by cli­mate change as con­tenders for refugee sta­tus has also gen­er­ated pos­i­tive in­ter­na­tional head­lines.

Else­where on the global stage, Ardern and Trade Min­is­ter David Parker ap­pear to have found a way to ful­fil Labour’s pledge to ban for­eign­ers from buy­ing ex­ist­ing homes, and with­out en­dan­ger­ing our in­ter­na­tional trade deals in the process. If a sim­ple amend­ment to our ex­ist­ing Over­seas Amend­ment Act is passed be­fore the pro­posed ‘‘TPP 11’’ is signed, this will not af­fect the pact’s other pro­vi­sions. How New Zealand can re­solve its other mis­giv­ings – about the TPP’s dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nisms – poses a far thornier prob­lem.

For its part, Na­tional has shifted ground from say­ing the for­eign buy­ers ban couldn’t be done, to say­ing it won’t make much dif­fer­ence. Ar­guably, the mea­sure would have had more im­pact if the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment hadn’t cho­sen to sit on the side­lines and tac­itly en­able Auck­land home-own­ers to treat their houses as a ‘can’t lose’ bet at the hous­ing casino.

The house price is­sue re­flects the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in­volved. The Ardern gov­ern­ment has been given a strong man­date from vot­ers un­der 30 to im­prove hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity. How­ever, some vo­cal mem­bers of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion (that won the lot­tery on home own­er­ship) have been more than happy to watch house prices es­ca­late.

Ul­ti­mately, ban­ning for­eign­ers from buy­ing ex­ist­ing homes may be a largely sym­bolic mea­sure. Yet sym­bol­ism – and the fas­ci­na­tion of over­seas me­dia with the young wo­man lead­ing this coun­try – can go some way to val­i­dat­ing sub­stan­tive changes. Af­ter all, ‘Clean and Green’ is also a sym­bolic slo­gan, but its ex­is­tence has fi­nally be­gun to spur the ac­tions nec­es­sary to pro­tect its in­tegrity.

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