Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has rejected suggestions she trashed the trans-Tasman relationship when she launched a scathing attack on the New Zealand Labour Party earlier this year.
In August, Ms Bishop accused New Zealand Labour of colluding with the Australian Labor Party to dig up information on Barnaby Joyce’s dual New Zealand citizenship.
On Thursday New Zealand Labour won office after New Zealand First leader Winston Peters threw his support behind the party to form a coalition government.
Ms Bishop was quick to congratulate the Labour prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern, calling Australia’s relationship with New Zealand “very strong and deep”.
But she stood by her criticisms of New Zealand Labour, pointing out Ms Ardern had conceded her MP Chris Hipkins did the wrong thing when he asked questions in New Zealand Parliament about Mr Joyce’s citizenship.
“The fact is Ms Ardern gave an explanation a couple of months ago about the behaviour of a New Zealand member of the Labour Party,” Ms Bishop told Channel Nine.
“She said at the time that his conduct was wrong, it was unacceptable, it should never have happened, and he should never have become involved. I accepted her explanation and I agree with her absolutely.”
Ms Bishop also took to Twitter to castigate journalists who said she had made it clear she could not trust New Zealand Labour.
“Rubbish. Read what I actually said. I agree entirely with Ms Ardern’s admonishment of her colleague -that his conduct was ‘unacceptable'” she tweeted.
The Federal Opposition has been quick to point to the transcript of Ms Bishop’s remarks at the time.
Ms Bishop was asked if she would not trust a New Zealand Labour Government.
“I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian Government,” Ms Bishop said in August.
Repairing the damage
There are clear signs that both countries are keen to make sure the dispute doesn’t cruel the relationship between Australia and the new Labour government in Wellington.
Diplomats in both countries were taken aback by the force of Ms Bishop’s criticisms in August, but they maintain the bilateral relationship is strong and broad enough to bear the strain.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rang Ms Arden last night to congratulate her.
@TurnbullMalcolm: “Congratulations Jacinda Ardern good to tak with you tonight. Look fwd to seeing you soon & building on our two nations’ great partnership”
The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of a strong relationship between Australia and New Zealand, and plan to hold a face-to-face meeting soon.
Ms Ardern also told reporters in New Zealand she planned to visit Australia not long after taking office.
But Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Ms Bishop had undermined Australia’s relationship with New Zealand in an attempt to distract voters from the Government’s dual citizenship woes.
“It is now incumbent on the Foreign Minister to undo the damage caused by her irresponsible remarks,” Senator Wong said.