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Engaging with Australia

The weekend expedition of New Zealand politicians and business leaders across the Tasman served to emphasise differences between the new and relatively-new leaders of our two major parties.

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was dealing with serious issues of diplomacy, National’s Simon Bridges was struggling to get any coverage in Australia.

Ardern led a small army of seven Cabinet Ministers and 34 business leaders for what is being called her charm offensive, while Bridges flew separately on a commercial flight to the bunfight that included a lunch for 1000.

He might have enjoyed some quiet satisfaction from the fact that despite her personal skills, Ardern was unable to get any traction on the most divisive issue between the two countries — Australia’s exporting of criminals with only token links back to New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was quick to crush any hopes of a breakthrough, with a blunt statement that Australia had a legal and moral right as a sovereign country to deport the offenders.

It was a setback for Ardern because this is a hot issue here, sparked by comments like those of Police Commissioner Mike Bush last month that 44 percent of the more than 1000 sent here up to December had re-offended.

Things like a picture of a new New Zealand chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, made up of deportees, add fuel to the fire.

Ardern is to be commended however for her efforts — alongside challenges being made over policy positions, such as in relation to refugees on Manus Island — to keep onside with Australia, which has a $24 billion two-way trade with New Zealand in which this country has a $1.6 billion surplus.

By contrast Bridges could be excused for devoting his downtime to contemplating what to do about Judith Collins and Steven Joyce.

Collins seems to hold some sort of Sword of Damocles, poised to strike if National’s polling starts to slide. Joyce, although not universally popular, is respected for his financial ability — despite the $11 billion-hole blunder.

Where Bridges puts the two pretenders in his shadow Cabinet will be interesting and significant.