NZ V Australia: Why Tensions Between The Countries Have Escalated

Are our colonial ties fading in the modern world?

Squabbles between Australia and New Zealand have typically stemmed from friendly rivalry on the sporting field, or arguments over who has the right to claim actor Russell Crowe as their own.

They are generally lightweight affairs that make for funny memes.

Yet in recent weeks, tensions between the trans-Tasman nations have escalated -- and a war of words has raged between our politicians. So what are we fighting about?

Ten daily brought one Aussie and one Kiwi expert into the ring to hash it out.


"The real issue here is how NZ nationals are being treated by Australian authorities," said Robert Ayson, Professor of Strategic Studies at New Zealand's Victoria University.

Australia has deported more than 1,000 New Zealand citizens with criminal record since 2014. Any New Zealander who has spent more than 12 months behind bars can have their visa cancelled.

There has been a steep rise in deportations of Kiwis since the passage of laws in 2014.

In 1973, New Zealand and Australia agreed to grant reciprocal freedom to travel and live.

But that has lately come under strain, with a string of changes limiting New Zealanders’ access to Australia.

"There's a sense that N.Z are not being given a fair go and it's come to a head with this young guy," said Ayson.

"This young guy" is 17 year old NZ boy who was adult in detention in Melbourne for four months. He was born in New Zealand, and his family moved to Australia when he was 11.

The boy (who cannot be named for legal reasons) landed himself in a Sydney juvenile detention centre for non-violent offences.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton used section 116 of the Migration Act to revoke his visa

NZ's acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said Australia was failing to live up to its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by detaining the teenager.

"New Zealand's political leaders say this is not how they would treat Australians. They see Australia's approach as outside the spirit of trans-Tasman relations," said Ayson.

Jonathan Prkye, Director of the Lowy Institute's Pacific Islands Program said that's not necessarily comparing apples to apples.

"We also need to recognise that in 2013 there were almost 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, close to 15 percent of the NZ population. In the same year there were about 60,000 people born in Australia living in New Zealand," said Pryke.


Peters further added fuel to a trans-Tasman fire by claiming Australia copied the Kiwi flag and should get a new one.

"We had a flag that we've had for a long time, copied by Australia, and they should actually change their flag and honour the fact that we got there first with this design," he told reporters recently.

New Zealand adopted its Southern Cross-starred flag in 1902, while Australia formally only did so in 1954 -- although Australia's current flag was first designed in September 1901.

Winston Peters suggested Australia use a kangaroo on its flag.

"I think we've even already got the solution for them, if you like: Probably a big kangaroo, like the maple leaf in Canada," Peters said.

NZ held two referendums in 2015 and 2016 in a bid to change the flag. Both bids failed.

Prkye said "I think it’s quite ironic" and that changing a flag is "easier said than done."


Its sheer size means Australia tends to look down on its smaller sibling.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton hit back at recent criticism from our neighbours and said, "There's a lot that we do for New Zealand ... We're a big land mass between them and boats coming from Indonesia and Southeast Asia."

Dutton added that "New Zealand don't contribute really anything to the defence effort that we've got. "

Pryke said Australia often patronised New Zealand.

"This is often a knee-jerk reaction you hear from Australia ... I think this is a far too simplistic assessment, and an arrogant one. New Zealand has made significant diplomatic, development, and even defence contributions -- especially in the Pacific Islands region," he told ten daily.

Ayson said Australia has a far tougher immigration stance than New Zealand and the countries differ in their stance on asylum seekers.

"I can't think of a New Zealand version of Peter Dutton, it just doesn't exist in NZ ... even in our conservative moments we don't get close to Australia," he said.

The Pacific neighbours have disagreed in the past, including whether or not to join with the US in invading Iraq in 2003. However, now it's less about foreign policy and more about bi-lateral relations.

"It's not something that happens that often. Australia, for example during the Hawke era, called out New Zealand about their relationship with the United State,"

Ayson said things get far more tense when Australia is not happy with New Zealand.

"When the small power gets  upset with the large power that's one thing but when Australia gets angry with N.Z, that's in another league," he said.

Pryke told ten daily this current squabble will soon get resolved with our friends across the ditch and said one Kiwi politician but it best when he concluded,  Our relationship is deep and close. You'd liken it to a bit of a hillbilly wedding - even if we had a divorce we'd still be first cousins."

Contact the author at