Prime minister Jacinda Ardern with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison (Photo: Getty Images)
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison (Photo: Getty Images)

PoliticsApril 6, 2019

If Australia’s PM is more than empty talk on Christchurch, here’s what he must do

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison (Photo: Getty Images)
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison (Photo: Getty Images)

Following a terrorist attack targeting NZ’s Muslim community, Scott Morrison has been keen to hug his NZ counterpart, and talked of a ‘bright stream of light to come from the darkness’. Until he overhauls Australia’s immigration and deportation policy, it’s nothing but platitude, writes Janet McAllister

Ostensibly, the Aussies were there to support the Kiwis, particularly the terrorism survivors. But it’s hard to avoid concluding Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at last Friday’s Hagley Park remembrance service for his own cynical reasons, and he was there on sufferance.

Back home, he has failed to rebuke Islamophobia in any meaningful way, even refusing to admit Pauline Hanson is racist. New Zealand’s gun laws are unusually lax and us Pākehā are appalling racists but, as Jacinda Ardern herself has not shied away from noting, the alleged terrorist was an Australian. Ergo, Australia shares our shame. If New Zealand had been attacked by an anti-white, anti-Christian terrorist, what would we think of a leader from the terrorist’s country of origin who did little to check such hatred? Morrison has yet to prove he deserves proximity to anyone – anyone at all – negatively impacted by 15 March.

But Morrison clearly sees Ardern’s politics of love as a useful brand, and he was keen to cosy up to it – quite literally so. He launched into a hug when she reached for a handshake at their Friday post-service meeting. He has also previously suggested giving the Muslim community a “big hug”; someone needs to tell him that cuddling privileges are to be asked for, not imposed.

What someone – preferably Winston Peters as minister of foreign affairs and trade – also needs to tell Morrison is that in spite of all his self-humiliating non-consensual hugging, he can still earn the respect of the world and even New Zealand. He can still show himself to be a genuine friend.

In a word: reparations. Not official ones, of course. Unlike the Rainbow Warrior bombing, this wasn’t officially state-sanctioned terrorism. But basic humanity – and good PR, a more persuasive source of advice for ScoMo – both strongly indicate that his country owes a grand gesture of goodwill to both New Zealand and the global Muslim community. I cannot comment on what the global Muslim community may wish to request but New Zealand has been asking for the same reasonable things for years:

  • Send us 150 refugees currently either on Manus Island and/or Nauru, as soon as our government thinks is possible. Hell, make it 250.
  • In fact, find genuine homes for all your other off-shored refugees. Dismantle your wall of unwilling human bodies.
  • Stop deporting unofficial Australians who are officially New Zealand citizens, and release those you have incarcerated in immigration  detention centres back to their Australian homes. Peters has called these Australian deportations a “festering sore”; Ardern has called them “corrosive”. (We should also pledge to stop deporting New Zealanders who are officially citizens of smaller Pacific nations).
  • In fact, close all your immigration detention centres. Stop these human rights abuses.
  • Let those Aussie New Zealanders who have already been deported go home, to Australia.
  • Honestly, stop your generally shabby treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia entirely – such as stalling on them becoming Australian citizens. It’s racist – aimed at a community which includes many Māori and Pacifica people.

These actions will not heal Australia of its fear of others – that would take genuine, ongoing acknowledgement of its genocide of indigenous peoples on which the country was founded. But these actions would be a real way for “a bright stream of light to come from the darkness” to use Morrison’s own platitudes.

They would be a way to rebuke violent white supremacy, to show that while the Christchurch attacks have emboldened racists in New Zealand and elsewhere, that the hate is far outweighed by significant acts of compassion, unity, and respect for cultural difference. New Zealand politicians should be twisting the screws on Morrison to make his platitudes a reality. This is where the politics of love needs to show its backbone of steel, lobbying successfully for Australia itself to become a nicer place.

Recent history has shown that we have little in the way of economic power to make Australia do anything – but if our politicians can’t turn our current global popularity into diplomatic power, then they are less capable than they look. Does Morrison really want to be known as that guy whose inaction is welcomed by white supremacists and not by Ardern?

In the words of Al Noor mosque imam Gamal Fouda: “We call on governments around the world, including New Zealand’s and its neighbouring countries, to bring an end to hate speech and the politics of fear.”

“Neighbouring countries”. I’m going to take a punt and say he’s talking about Australia, right there. Heed the call, Mr Morrison. Your politics of fear are not welcome here.

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