A tangled tale of cousins and sovereignty

There has been much talk this past week about New Zealand’s “special relationship” with Australia. Is there one?

Helen Clark found out how “special” it is when John Howard — with whom generally she got on — canned access by New Zealanders living in Australia to social assistance unless they were Australian citizens.

Howard was reacting to our growing numbers of new citizens from immigration and automatic citizenship for Pasifika which gave them a route around Australia’s stricter citizenship criteria.

Clark cut her losses. In February 2001 she accepted the ending of automatic citizenship, which left an automatic right to residency only. New Zealanders who chose to go and pay taxes in Australia and not here were on their own. So were their kids.

So why the fuss about New Zealand-born criminals being deported here? Why should Australia not exercise its sovereign power to kick out non-citizens who have spent a year or more in jail, even those who went there at age 3 and experienced only Australian social-environmental criminalising factors?

Mateship does not transcend sovereignty.

Australian Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young turned (as Greens do) to human rights principles on TV1’s QandA on Sunday: “They are, by all other means, Australian. They were educated here, they’ve got jobs here, they’ve paid taxes here.”

One, interned on Christmas Island, even had a job lined up, so would pay more Australian tax.

Hanson-Young also condemned detention centre conditions. From human rights activists’ accounts — until Liberal Australia legislated to stop them talking — those centres are extra-legal. Things happen between guards and detainees which are not within or subject to the law.

That makes a human rights case for John Key to take to Liberal Malcolm Turnbull for New Zealanders not to be sent to such places.

Whether Turnbull gets the Australian Parliament to take some edges off Tony Abbott’s anti-terror and anti-illegal-immigrant legislation will be a pointer as to whether he is a genuine “small-l liberal”, Australians’ term for those who bother about civil rights, among other things.

But why should he?

Marama Fox, Maori party co-leader and advocate for Maori rights, invoked “our Anzac history” on Sunday’s QandA show.

Key went on about it, too, from New York. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, perennial Liberal No 2, said there is no closer relationship. Even Senator Ian Macdonald, chair of the committee which backed last year’s send-them-back law, told Radio New Zealand that “Australia loves its cousins across the ditch”. But he added those cousins “must be subject to the same laws as everyone else”.

The simple point: Australia treats cousin New Zealand as an occasionally useful adjunct and is otherwise offhand, at times near-dismissive.

It pays attention when it worries we might go bad and affect it. In 1982 Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony said Australia’s prime motivation for the Closer Economic Relationship trade agreement was concern about the possible effect on Australia’s security of our deteriorating economy.

That is, Australia bothers when it is in Australia’s interests. One example was the proposed joint Therapeutic Products Agency to regulate medicines and medical gear. Australia hoped having New Zealand in the title might give the agency standing as a regulatory guide in South-east Asia.

The agency was to have had a council of only the two health ministers, a rare concession of equal governance. New Zealand’s gain was access to far more experts to screen products.

Key (and the Greens) blocked it in 2007 even after Annette King negotiated (with then Health Minister Abbott) a let-out clause for supplementary medicines, the main reason for opposition. Talks revived in 2011 but Jonathan Coleman closed the door last November.

In that light it is unsurprising that there has been little recent progress on the single economic market which aims to make doing business in each other’s country the same as at home. And now that hardline kick-them-out Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is Treasurer, future prospects aren’t bright.

The upshot: Key’s deportee approach to Turnbull will be as supplicant, not equal. He will then need to try to activate Turnbull’s small-l liberalism — and circumnavigate Turnbull’s arrogance, a legendary Canberra topic.

While he is at it, though, Key might usefully pick Turnbull’s brains on the value of science, which Turnbull has put centre-stage of his economic policy.

Steven Joyce issued a “science investment report” as this column was finalised. Motu Research last week reported funding added science value. AgResearch has fired many scientists. Government science funding has been below the OECD average. See next week’s column.

Meantime, Key and Justice Minister Amy Adams have work to do to ensure deportees don’t bring their Australian criminal inclinations back with them.

Done well, that could make them workers and taxpayers: a gain, not a cost.