Jacindamania sparks interest in NZ poll

A trans-Tasman spat over Barnaby Joyce's citizenship has sparked interest in the Kiwi poll.

A trans-Tasman spat over Barnaby Joyce's citizenship has sparked interest in the Kiwi poll.

Jacindamania has electrified the New Zealand election campaign, even for Aussies.

Throw in a trans-Tasman spat over Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's New Zealand citizenship and the Kiwi poll has enough spark to interest Australians.

The September 23 election had been expected to deliver a rare fourth term in government for the conservative National Party.

Enter charismatic 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern as the Labour Party's new leader, seven weeks before polling day.

Her emergence has probably alerted Australians that there is a New Zealand election, which would normally get as much attention as a state poll does in the other states, Monash University politics and international relations lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian says.

Then there's the international intrigue over who knew what when about Mr Joyce's NZ citizenship by descent, after inquiries from a Labour MP and Australian journalists.

"That probably was as close to people being aware or suddenly becoming excited about the New Zealand election in Australia - the potential for a possible fractured relationship between the Australian and New Zealand governments," Dr Ghazarian says.

The two allies, neighbours and sporting rivals have always enjoyed a close relationship.

The Anzac spirit is alive and well between the "very best friends", is how Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it when he met with his NZ counterpart Bill English in February.

"We are truly a family, a trans-Tasman family," says the prime minister who enjoyed a "bromance" with Mr English's predecessor John Key.

The row over Mr Joyce's citizenship has sparked some family tension.

Blaming Labor here for tipping off Labour there, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of treachery and international conspiracy that put the relationship between the Australian and NZ governments at risk.

Ms Bishop declared she would find it very difficult to build trust with a NZ Labour government.

Dr Ghazarian believes that may have been a bit of partisan overkill.

"Really in the overall scheme of things, the closeness and the history between the two countries would suggest that no matter which sides are in power at any given time, those relationships will continue to be as strong as ever if not strengthened further."

Australian National University politics professor John Wanna also views it as "a bit of hot air" that will not really affect the relationship.

Prof Wanna believes there are some social policy "irritants" that have complicated the relationship, which in economic terms remains strong.

He cites Australia's tightening of citizenship rules, which also impacts on whether the 600,000 New Zealanders living here can access entitlements and benefits.

Prof Wanna says the deportation of New Zealanders who have served jail terms has also caused a furore across the ditch.

"That drives New Zealanders mad because although those people might be New Zealanders, some of them haven't lived there since they were kids.

"They've done some crime and then we're dumping them back in New Zealand just because they have a New Zealand passport."

Ms Ardern has warned a Labour government would retaliate if Australia goes ahead with changes that will raise the cost of tertiary education for Kiwis studying here, although she adds it does not affect the importance of the countries' overall relationship.

"If they lock us out of tertiary education, we will lock them out of it here."

But on the issue of welfare benefits there would be no retaliation.

"We're still fighting for New Zealanders' rights in Australia," Ms Ardern says.

"I think we should maintain the moral high ground that it's only right that if you pay taxes, you have access to those benefits."

Mr English does not believe retaliation is warranted, fearing it would harm the progress made with a new pathway for New Zealanders to gain citizenship in Australia and have the same rights as Australians.

"It would be pretty silly to then slap the Australians over some deal somewhere when we've made significant progress, so we'll just continue to engage with them constructively," he says.

"I think talk of retaliation is likely to make it harder to make progress."

Dr Ghazarian says the Australian government does seem to have taken a colder view of New Zealand in recent times, especially on migration matters.

But he warns it would be foolish for Australian governments to think they can do things that would disadvantage New Zealanders without any political implications.

"Clearly if there's going to be a tit-for-tat battle - whether it's in trade, whether it's in tertiary education, people travelling between the two countries - no one will win.

"At their core the two countries are so close, they're so closely related, that it just doesn't make any sense for them to develop rifts based on partisan lines especially."

Prof Wanna says Labour has changed its leadership at exactly the right time, having struggled to get a high level of support since the 2008 defeat of Helen Clark's three-term government.

The electorate has not had the time to take a proper look at Ms Ardern, he notes.

"The question is do they know enough about her to vote for her."

He says the real issues in the election are almost parallel to those in Australia: health care, pensions, the cost of living, electricity prices.

"As New Zealanders get closer to the poll, those differences between the government, who is a low-taxing government, and Labour, who is talking about more taxes, I suspect that that will cut in.

"You'll probably find that that takes a bit from Ardern. It might be a very quick honeymoon."

Dr Ghazarian believes that should Labour and its "breath of fresh air" Ms Ardern win on Saturday, it will change Australians' views.

"It would been seen that the New Zealand political landscape is far more accepting and supportive of female leaders - Australia of course had Julia Gillard but for New Zealand it's not unusual now.

"In terms of what will happen, it will be business as usual I would suspect, but much greater interest in the New Zealand political landscape from Australians."

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