Editorial: Trans-Tasman leaders fail to solve the big problems

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with NZ PM Bill English in Queenstown.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with NZ PM Bill English in Queenstown.

The trans-Tasman leaders' meeting was a disappointment. The two prime ministers traded bromides about the Anzac spirit and announced small beer news about scientific co-operation.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill English stood together while laying Anzac wreaths and showed a predictable solidarity over the Port Hills fires. This is fine, of course, but the main issues between the two countries remain unfixed

Turnbull made some small concessions on the issue of New Zealanders' ability to become Australian citizens, allowing a more flexible approach to those who for reasons outside their control might not have met the minimum income requirement. Once again, nobody could object, but this is not a major step forward.

And Turnbull continues to stick with a flagrantly unfair deportation policy which means New Zealanders convicted sometimes of rather minor crimes can be shipped off to New Zealand--even if they have spent most of their life in Australia.  Turnbull has softened the appeal process against deportation. But the basic principles are wrong. New Zealand operates an utterly different and much more civilised approach to Aussies convicted here.

Turnbull and Bill English agreed to continue to keep pushing for TPPA even though President Trump has pulled the Americans out of it. The benefits of the TPPA were modest even with American participation. Without the United States, they are even smaller. The two leaders vow to keep flogging what looks increasingly like a dead horse.

They skirted in public the problem of Trump and his very different phone conversations with them. In any case they have little power over the rogue president. He doesn't seem to respond to the usual expectations of politeness towards old friends and allies.

The question of Australia's treatment of refugees was clearly not much canvassed. In fact, its treatment of those in camps on Manus and Nauru islands is indefensible and has damaged the country's international reputation. It remains unclear whether President Obama's agreement to resettle 1250 in America still stands. Trump threw a tantrum about it when speaking to Turnbull.

Turnbull predictably invoked the Anzac spirit and repeated what previous Australian prime ministers say in New Zealand: that we are family. This venerable platitude is of course true in a sense. There is also a sense in which the gap between the two countries, both in world-view and in values, continues to widen.

Turnbull, for instance, said once again how much he admires the John Key and Bill English-led National Government. He would like to be like Key.

But these political techniques can't just be transplanted holus-bolus from one political eco-system to another. Turnbull inherited a poisoned chalice from Tony Abbott, whose ideological extremism had repelled many Australians.

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But Turnbull, the latest Aussie PM to emerge from the revolving door, is now widely unpopular and perceived as dithering. A John Key-style charm makeover wouldn't change that.

 - Stuff


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