Bul­letin from Abroad

NZ’s change of govern­ment is a sober­ing sight for the Aus­tralian PM.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - New Zealan­der Bernard La­gan is the Aus­tralian correspondent for the Times, Lon­don. BERNARD LA­GAN

Bernard La­gan in Syd­ney

If you were Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, you’d prob­a­bly be un­nerved by Jacinda Ardern’s swift as­cent to the ninth floor of the Bee­hive.

The Key-English Govern­ment was a model for Turn­bull of a savvy, ­cen­treright ad­min­is­tra­tion that ­fos­tered a flour­ish­ing econ­omy, tried to carry the peo­ple with it be­fore act­ing and stayed uni­fied, all the while ­en­joy­ing what seemed an unas­sail­able lead over its Labour op­po­nents.

It was, in short, ev­ery­thing that Turn­bull wanted for his own frac­tious Govern­ment, which has trailed

Bill Shorten’s La­bor ­opposition in all of the past 21 Newspoll ­sur­veys ­con­ducted for the Aus­tralian ­news­pa­per. That’s a tally that is used against Turn­bull, be­cause he un­wisely cited the loss of 30 Newspolls in a row as a rea­son for de­pos­ing Tony Ab­bott in ­Septem­ber 2015.

The Ardern as­cen­dancy shows that, even if Turn­bull man­ages in the two years re­main­ing un­til the next elec­tion to unify his party, lift its poll num­bers and main­tain ­Aus­tralia’s world-record 26-year run of eco­nomic growth, it might not be enough to se­cure re-elec­tion.

The vein of dis­ad­van­tage and dis­con­tent that Ardern tapped in what seemed – out­wardly at least – an eco­nom­i­cally buoy­ant coun­try is to be found in Aus­tralia, too, and for many of the same rea­sons: as in New Zealand, there is ­re­sent­ment here that the ben­e­fits of ­sus­tained eco­nomic growth haven’t trick­led down.

Wages are stag­nant. Even the gover­nor of ­Aus­tralia’s Re­serve Bank, Philip Lowe, in July con­tra­dicted the Turn­bull Govern­ment’s in­sis­tence that the gap be­tween the haves and have-nots is di­min­ish­ing.

The Aus­tralian La­bor Party has come to the same re­al­i­sa­tion as Ardern: that it is no longer a heresy to re­pu­di­ate the en­thu­si­as­tic faith in mar­kets of the Hawke and Keat­ing La­bor gov­ern­ments and the Roger­nomics-era Labour Party in New Zealand.

With the shut­ter­ing in late Oc­to­ber of the last car plant, Aus­tralia has no large-scale en­gi­neer­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing left. Shorten promised a La­bor ­govern­ment would set up a $1 bil­lion fund to help out ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing firms that can’t get a bank loan. That’s old-fash­ioned in­ter­ven­tion.

Doubt­less, Aus­tralians will warm to New Zealand’s new Prime Min­is­ter in the way her com­pa­tri­ots – mostly – have. But the change of leader has its risks for re­la­tions be­tween Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Ardern has made it plain that she’s not minded to ac­cept more ­dis­crim­i­na­tion against New ­Zealan­ders liv­ing in Aus­tralia. She has said that if Aus­tralia presses ahead with a Bud­get-night un­der­tak­ing to start treat­ing Kiwi-born uni­ver­sity ­stu­dents as in­ter­na­tional full-fee-pay­ing stu­dents from next year – a move that could triple fees – she’ll re­tal­i­ate against Aus­tralian stu­dents in New Zealand, even though there are very few of those.

That’s the kind of in­cen­di­ary talk the Clark and Key gov­ern­ments avoided. They knew Aus­tralia could cause more dis­com­fort to the half-mil­lion Ki­wis liv­ing there than New Zealand could to ex­pa­tri­ate Aus­tralians.

There’s an­other po­ten­tially di­vi­sive is­sue be­tween the two coun­tries.

The Aus­tralian de­fence and for­eign-pol­icy Es­tab­lish­ment is ag­i­tated over New Zealand’s low level of de­fence spend­ing, which is di­min­ish­ing its abil­ity to op­er­ate ef­fec­tively along­side Aus­tralian forces.

Since the end of the Cold War, the gap be­tween the coun­tries’ re­spec­tive spend­ing has grown: by last year, Aus­tralia was spend­ing 2% of GDP and New Zealand only 1.1%. The NZ De­fence Force is much less well equipped than its neigh­bour’s.

Aus­tralia will be wor­ried that the new Prime Min­is­ter – mind­ful that New Zealand’s last Labour leader ­hap­pily grounded the air force’s ­fighters – will shelve the

$20 bil­lion plan set out last year in New Zealand’s De­fence White Pa­per to re­place the coun­try’s aged Orion mar­itime-pa­trol air­craft, Her­cules trans­ports and Anzac frigates.

Ardern says she won’t ac­cept ­dis­crim­i­na­tion against New Zealan­ders liv­ing in Aus­tralia.

“So what do you think of my new digs?”

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