John Armstrong's opinion: If Peter Dutton becomes Australia's PM it means bad news for NZ in general, Jacinda Ardern in particular

Just at the very moment when circumstances demand that an Australian politician chock-full of vision, integrity and credibility step forward into the breach — the Lucky Country lucks out and instead lands itself with Peter Dutton.

A bigger step backwards not just for Australia, but for already worsening trans-Tasman relations to boot would be hard to find.

Queensland's master of the dark arts of politics is not yet ensconced in the Prime Minister's office in the federal parliament in Canberra.

But the maintenance staff in the complex might as well change the name-plate on that office’s door right now.

Malcolm Turnbull's leadership of the Australian Liberal Party may technically be still alive after Tuesday's "spill" failed to deliver quite enough votes to see Dutton take charge and simultaneously become prime minister.

But Turnbull is dead meat. No party can go into an election — even one which may still be a year off — with a leader who does not have the confidence of nearly half his colleagues.

Mr Dutton says he wants to do everything he can to stop Labor leader Bill Shorten becoming Australian Prime Minister. Source: 1 NEWS

It all adds up to very bad news for New Zealand in general and Jacinda Ardern in particular.

Turnbull did not seem to care very much about the deteriorating condition of trans-Tasman relations.

Dutton seems positively hostile towards Ardern and anyone else in her administration who has the audacity to question the propriety of the policies he administers - be it the incarceration of New Zealand citizens in mainland detention centres or asylum-seekers stuffed into offshore refugee processing centres.

When Ardern started to question the acceptability of such practices, Dutton rounded on her by saying New Zealand "would have to think about their relationship with Australia and what impact it would have".

He described Ardern's offer of New Zealand aid to those asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru "as a waste of money".

Mr Turnbull only barely blocked challenger Peter Dutton. Source: 1 NEWS

He suggested New Zealand was free-loading on the "many hundreds of millions of dollars" spent by Australia on blocking boat-people from landing on its shores.

The former police officer and Australia's now ex-Home Affairs minister is a politician who puts the "hard" into hard-line.

The policies which make Wellington unhappy are most unlikely to change when he becomes prime minister — something which might be just weeks if not days away.

Ardern and her colleagues will have to rely on Winston Peters' canny skills as Foreign Minister to broker a more satisfactory working relationship between the leader and the likely soon-to-be leader.

Otherwise, those on the New Zealand side of the trans-Tasman relationship will have to cross their fingers and hope Australia's next election solves the problem for them.

A composite image of Peter Dutton and Jacinda Ardern.
A composite image of Peter Dutton and Jacinda Ardern. Source: 1 NEWS