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Is ANZAC a nostalgic dream?

The so-called trans-Tasman relationship, which we will commemorate next Sunday on Anzac Day, has never been more abused than it is now. While the somewhat idealistic brotherhood in arms tradition was established by a previous generation on the bloody slopes of Gallipoli more than a century ago, there is now a new conflict festering beneath the surface which is raising temperatures and tempers on both side of the Tasman.

When we closed our borders to international visitors a year ago, in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we included our nearest neighbours, Australia in that essential exclusion. There were significant differences in the initial responses of both countries to the covid threat so closing the border to Australia was crucial to keeping the virus out of New Zealand. There were however logical exceptions for New Zealanders returning home but they were, and are, required to go into managed quarantine before entering the community. There were also eventually exceptions for seasonal workers and others considered to be essential to the economy and that gave rise to endless arguments as each sector demanded that the people they wanted or needed should be allowed in to the country.

For the past few months, as Covid-19 control systems finally seemed to be getting the virus under control on both sides of the Tasman, Australian Government officials, and the tourist industry have been falling over themselves trying to persuade New Zealand to relax the trans-Tasman travel ban. Last week Prime ministers Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern finally agreed to open both borders for quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel. In a joint statement they said it was a world-leading arrangement that opened up travel while aiming to keep Covid-19 out of the community. The Anzac tradition seemed alive and well.

In that same week the Australia Government made another world leading decision this time of high-handed arrogance to deport yet another criminal to New Zealand who has lived in Australia since he was nine years old. He has no family support or other ties here. To make the situation worse his mother and sister are unable to travel overseas as they have serious health issues. That means he is unlikely to ever see them again. So much for Anzac.

The latest deportee is one hundreds of people who have been returned to New Zealand during the pandemic who did not want to be here. They were deported under the infamous section 501 of the Australian Immigration Act. Many of these people went to Australia as infants or very young children, grew up there and became anti-social criminals there. They were deported supposedly to their home country at the conclusion of prison sentences to a country in which they have no connections, no relatives, no job and nowhere to live.

This latest deportation follows the recent sad saga of a young woman with two young children with dual Australian and New Zealand citizenship who was arrested on the Turkish border while trying to escape from Isis in Syria. She was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia as a six-year-old and then travelled to Syria on an Australian passport to join Isis in 2014.

In a seemingly underhanded move the Australia Government revoked her Australian citizenship without any forewarning or discussion with New Zealand. Given that there were young children involved that was a harsh and very cruel move as the young woman has family in Australia but none here where she will most likely be sent.

While most countries have similar laws, none is applied with more inhumane callousness or blind stupidity than Australia. In spite of international condemnation of the Australian hard-line policy and polite objections from New Zealand, there appears little likely-hood of a change any time soon.

It came as no surprise that many of these deportees returned to the criminal lives they lived in Australia, including gang activities, drug dealing and worse. For some it is all they know and, without connections or a support base of any kind here what else did anyone reasonably expect? These people are, for all intents and purposes, Australians.

New Zealand has, so far, resisted many suggestions that we could, and perhaps should, apply a reciprocal policy and send law-breaking Australians home but that would make us as bad as they are…or would it?

Most New Zealanders are reasonably tolerant and generous people but it would be unwise to test that tolerance much further.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison either wants Australia to be part of a responsible, humane international community and part of the once almost sacred Anzac tradition or he doesn’t. Time is fast running out for him to make that call before it is made for him. We don’t need friends who treat us with such contempt.


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