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.