Wren's Week: Jacinda Ardern shoots down Scott Morrison over deportations

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On our shores for the Prime Ministerial meeting, New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern was once again a figure of intellect and empathy, writes John Wren.

LATE LAST WEEK, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in Australia for the annual Australia-New Zealand Prime Ministerial meeting. She gave Scott Morrison both barrels over the deportation of some NZ citizens with criminal records.

Over the ensuing days, we saw the usual Murdoch contingent heavily criticise her, twist her words and generally misrepresent what she said. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, responsible for the deportations, weighed in on what she said. Ardern responded by swatting him away as the inconsequential nuisance he is. Dutton poses few problems for Ardern. She has dealt with Right-wing male bullies her whole life. He is no different to the legion of others she’s despatched in the past.

As a New Zealand born, now Australian citizen who has lived in Australia now for longer than I lived in NZ, I have been observing both nations for decades. I have studied the history of both. Australia and New Zealand are colonial siblings. Both nations appear to outsiders as near identical, but there are distinctly different cultural undercurrents that define the two very differently. Ardern stated that Australia’s position on deportations of Kiwis was straining the relationship. She’s not wrong.

This week I’ll analyse Ardern’s statement to clarify what she was saying and why. I’ll also discuss more generally on what the cultural differences between the two nations and how they manifest themselves in this century.

1. Ardern: “The vast majority of [New Zealander residents] are providing a net benefit to Australia.”

This is correct. The vast majority work here, pay their taxes and contribute positively to the community. Many, like myself, have established businesses that in turn employ Australians. You will find Kiwis in every profession and trade — doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, sparkies, plumbers, builders and labourers, even politicians. Kiwis are renowned for their work ethic — it’s a result of generations of dour Scottish Presbyterian migrants and their descendants.

2. Ardern: [NZ residents] earn more and more likely to be employed.”

This was one of the statements misrepresented by Australia’s conservative media. Ardern meant that New Zealanders in Australia earn more on average than Australians — this is because those Kiwis who migrate to Australia are more weighted towards qualified professional specialist work. They earn more because on average, they take on more professional roles.

Role-for-role, of course, they are paid the same as Australians, but the Murdoch media couldn’t seem to get their minds around that. There is also a migrant work ethic at play. Most Kiwis come here to advance their careers in a bigger employment market. They are often more motivated as a result.

3. Ardern: [NZ residents] pay more tax.”

This, too, is true. Although they pay the same tax rates, they pay more tax on average because they earn more on average (see point 2 above). New Zealanders pay the same rates of tax but have less access to services that those taxes pay for. They have no access to the NDIS, their children cannot access HECS fees. There are also other limitations.

So, in that sense, New Zealanders are paying more tax than Australians. In fact, every NZ citizen who works and pays taxes in Australia is effectively subsidising Australian taxpayers. That is part of the net benefit Ardern stated early in her speech. To be fair, if Kiwis are paying taxes, they should have access to all the same services those taxes provide, or perhaps they should pay a discounted tax rate.

4. Ardern makes the point that she has no problems with Australia deporting Kiwis, “genuine Kiwis” as she calls them, who have broken the law. Her issue was with those Kiwis who were brought to Australia by their families at a very young age, many as babies. Those who have grown up here, were educated here and learned to become criminals here.

For all intents and purposes, they are Australians whose criminal leanings are a product of Australian criminal subculture. They have no ties to NZ, they have no support networks, they have often never even been to NZ before they are unceremoniously put on a plane and dumped at Auckland airport. The Murdoch media has misrepresented her saying she wants an end to all deportations. This was plainly untrue.

Ardern’s thinking on this issue is much longer-term than the black-and-white Pentecostal short-termism of Morrison. He does not have the intellect or empathy of Ardern and it showed with his legalistic rote response. Ardern recognises that rehabilitation and return to society should be the ultimate goal of a nation’s criminal justice system. It is not just about punitive punishment; it should also be about changing the behaviour of a criminal so they can re-enter and become a productive member of society at the end of their sentence.

Rehabilitation starts in prison but the majority of it is done through an ex-prisoner’s support network when they leave gaol. This network must include family and friends. It has been shown that prisoners without these support networks quickly become recidivists. Dumping an (Australian) Kiwi in NZ who has no such networks is almost guaranteeing they will fall back into old criminal habits. Ardern is seeking a longer-term solution that benefits both the prisoner and society. Morrison just wants to dump the problem on someone else. As most observers of Australian politics have noted, this comes as no surprise.

Given that modern Australia was founded as a colony of convicts and screws and that one-in-five Australians can claim convict heritage, it is surprising that Australia has such a callous disregard for the wellbeing of prisoners and, in this case, modern-day ticket-of-leave men and women. This brings us to the key cultural distinctions at play between the two nations.

Modern Australia was founded mostly through conquest and prison colonies with a very large Irish Catholic contingent. NZ was founded largely through planned Wakefieldian settlements (as was Adelaide and South Australia) and a negotiated treaty with its Maori population. Free settlers versus Australia’s forced settlers.

Although free settlers arrived later in Australia, the dominant group for decades were ex-convicts and that had a significant effect on Australian culture — larrikinism, a disrespect for authority and the love of a quick deal. New Zealand was settled in a much more structured manner — a “better Britain”, with more distinct social classes, but with recognition that class mobility came with education and hard work (there’s that Scottish Presbyterianism again).

This has also meant that NZ’s cultural tolerance for political and business corruption is very low. A NZ politician would not survive the scandals currently enveloping Morrison — having said that they would be unlikely to embark on them in the first place. There is still mostly a sense of honour in NZ politics. The New Zealand political system is not broken. Australia’s is.

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