Dita DeBoni: Not good enough for NZ to whisper on the big issues

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1 NEWS

The eerily-similar prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand will be meeting soon – a gabfest John Key says will be "dominated" by talk of the 200 or so New Zealanders banged up in immigration detention centres.

1 NEWS Columnist Dita DeBoni

Source: 1 NEWS

However, while these detainees might dominate talks, we won't, according to Mr Key, be "strong-arming" Australia into changing its stance. 

We definitely won't be "badgering" the Aussies, not putting them in an "arm lock" over it.  I’m guessing, based on that list, that Chinese burns and wedgies have also been ruled out as tactics of persuasion.

But the truth is that it is Australia that has us in an arm-lock.  It knows that thousands of our citizens will continue to flock there to work and enjoy shrimps on the barbie, even at the cost of paying millions in tax without any representation – or even basic social services.

It is the bigger global citizen in every respect, and a key trading partner.  So are we likely to not just suggest Australia extends fair treatment to New Zealanders - but also to please be so kind as to not be creating a human rights catastrophe on our back door step with its downright criminal treatment of asylum seekers?

Of course not.

When the Prime Minister is challenged to do more for our people in Australia, his peculiar response is to suggest that Australia will eventually change its ways simply because they hold us in such fond affection. 

The prime minister has expressed his concern with low-level offenders with little link to New Zealand being deported.
Source: 1 NEWS

Proximity and some historical ties may give us some leverage in areas such as trade, but affection for New Zealand has never – and likely will never – shift government policy.

And it is more unlikely than ever to now, considering Malcolm Turnbull will only be able to hold onto his job by appeasing the right-wing faction of the liberal party.  Much as he might admire Mr Key, he's got his bucket-list ambition to be Prime Minister of Australia to think about.

Our Government should just be open about this power imbalance.  Of course, it may then have to admit the stark truth about Aotearoa on the wider world stage as well – that despite our constant crowing about how our ideas of fair play and our "New Zealand values" are a great asset to bodies like the UN Security Council, we count, in the scheme of things, for very little. 

Our foreign policy – even our trade policy, as we see with the TPP – is dictated largely by the United States. 

The best thing New Zealand can do is be an example to the world of innovative thinking around some of the big modern issues. 

To some extent we do this already in terms of things like gay marriage rights and (to some degree) the recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Labour leader hits out at Key over his approach to dealing with Australia’s deportation policy.
Source: Breakfast

Hopefully in other areas – like our poor industrial relations legislation and our mass sell-off of public assets – we won’t prove so inspirational.  There is room to do much better in terms of thing like climate change emissions targets, public health policy and our refugee quota.

But we can also speak out on matters of injustice, even if we are just the whisper of reason in a world of loud aggression.

That means going beyond what we usually do - singing with the choir about ISIS, Iranian nuclear ambition or Vladimir Putin.  It means talking about the horrible injustices happening right next door across the Tasman, as thousands of people – including children – are incarcerated in bleak detention centres without rights, and many, without hope of leaving.

It’s about confronting things like the sexual abuse of women and children in these camps, the harassment of medical doctors and human rights groups that work with detainees, and the completely opaque nature of the way they operate.

Mr Key is right that we can't "strong arm", because we are simply in no position to.  But we can indicate, one way or other, that we notice what's going on, and we're not in favour of it. It is absolutely the very least we can do. 

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