It was an awkward moment for Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop. News had arrived that a New Zealand government had been formed after a lengthy period of deliberation. (The election took place on September 23.)
Veteran maverick and occasional political suicide Winston Peters of the New Zealand First party had played the familiar role of kingmaker, picking the New Zealand Labour party to form government. The 37 year old leader, Jacinda Ardern, was evidently too good to fob off.
This placed the Australian government in a prize pickle. Australian ministers had more or less designated the NZ Labour party persona non grata after questions were asked, in the NZ parliament, about matters of that country’s citizenship.
These queries all seemed provincial and inconsequential, but had potential consequences for Australia’s own deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce. Joyce, it seemed, had been a New Zealand citizen when elected to the Australian parliament, thereby rendering him ineligible to sit. (The High Court will, in time, rule on that point.)
Ardern had her own description of the events. “Yes, someone from the ALP put some legal question to [NZ Labour frontbencher Chris Hipkins] around citizenship. No mention was made of anyone’s name, no rationale for any particular case being pursued was ever raised.”
Bishop proceeded to have a distinctly anti-diplomatic meltdown. Culprits were needed, scalps sought. “New Zealand is facing an election….