Australia and New Zealand haven’t seen a row quite like it since Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie in 1981.
With Kiwi voters heading to the polls next month, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop today said she’d find it “very difficult to build trust” with a New Zealand Labour government after they confirmed yesterday that deputy PM Barnaby Joyce was a dual citizen.
The Australian government is essentially accusing the ALP and its New Zealand equivalent of the type of international conspiracy the CIA normally gets blamed for.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said opposition leader Bill Shorten “wants to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power”.
Turnbull’s accusation is based on the fact that someone from the ALP asked a New Zealand Labour MP, Chris Hipkins, about citizenship.
Leader of the house Christoper Pyne told Sky News that the ALP is “involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government”.
NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who’s been in the top job for just a fortnight, said no names or rationale were raised.
Hipkins subsequently submitted two questions on notice to internal affairs minister Peter Dunne in parliament about whether a child born in Australia with a New Zealand father could gain NZ citizenship.
Ardern said that in hindsight, had Hipkins realised the context, he would not have asked the questions.
Dunne says claims of a Labor/Labour conspiracy are “utter nonsense” and while the questions from Hipkins were “inappropriate”, Australian media inquiries drove the revelations.
The parliamentary questions from Hipkins are still unanswered.
The issue has turned into a political fight in New Zealand five weeks out from the September 23 election, with NZ prime minister Bill English accusing Hipkins of interfering in Australian politics.
“I can’t remember a time when an MP has done something like that that involves the politics of another country,” he said.
Bishop weighed into the issue when asked if she would trust Labour if it won the election next month.
“I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian government,” she said.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 15, 2017
Meanwhile, Ardern said her party valued its relationship with the Australian government but it was “high regrettable” that Bishop “has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party”.
I value our relationship with the Australian Govt highly. I won’t let disappointing & false claims stand in the way of that relationship
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) August 15, 2017
But with the government and Joyce resisting calls from the opposition to stand aside from the ministry, the bitterness of the fight in the Australian parliament, where the government has a one seat majority, is apparent in threats by the Coalition to refer Labor MPs to the High Court over their citizenship.
The government is demanding the ALP produce documents for at least four Labor MPs to prove they’re not dual citizens, in breach of the Constitution.
Labor spokesperson Tony Burke says the party is confident its candidate vetting processes meant there were no issues for the opposition.