Commentary |
16 October 2020

NZ election: From go-it-alone strategy to a more pragmatic approach

Originally published in The Australian.

Daniel Flitton
Daniel Flitton

Old friends can be hard-pressed to find new milestones, but New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed one with Australia when she joined Scott Morrison for a national cabinet meeting via video link back in May.

Not since the depths of World War II had a New Zealand prime minister attended such a gathering of Australian leaders involving the commonwealth, states and territories. But her message was that the extraordinary demands of the coronavirus pandemic made it crucial for both countries to prepare to connect, first with each other in a “bubble”, and then with the world again.

Morrison was clearly chuffed, happy to share the benefit of his discussions with “other leaders around the world”, as he put it, to “swap notes on a whole range of different restrictions and the economic impacts” of the pandemic.

Of course, in an alternate universe, this friendly moment in the midst of a crisis could have been far less pleasant and agreeable. Had New Zealand chosen differently all those years ago and instead decided to join in a federation with Australia rather than becoming a sovereign nation alone, a “Premier” Ardern would have been a regular face around the national cabinet table — and doubtless a focus of Morrison’s frustration.

Ardern has famously adopted a hard-line approach to COVID-19, putting health concerns before any thought of the economy. She took an early decision in March to impose a four-week lockdown, then to hunker behind closed borders in pursuit of an elimination strategy — exactly the tactic that has so ­annoyed Morrison in Queensland and Western Australia.

But New Zealand has long gone its own way, be it in relations with the US or attitudes towards China. And Ardern, facing an election on Saturday, is banking on these tough love COVID-19 policies to deliver her a second term.

Continue reading: The Australian.

Daniel Flitton is editor of the Lowy Institute digital magazine, The Interpreter, and a former intelligence analyst.