The two leaders appeared together for a press conference in Sydney this afternoon, with the Opera House serving as a dramatic backdrop.
Ms Ardern had pledged to discuss the deportation issue, which she’s previously described as “corrosive” to Australia’s relationship with New Zealand.
Hundreds of Kiwi migrants without Australian citizenship have been deported from the country after committing serious crimes, even though some have limited links to their country of birth.
The subject did come up during Ms Ardern’s private meeting with Mr Morrison earlier today, but she decided to drive her point home in public as well.
The New Zealand Prime Minister also spoke more generally about the treatment of Kiwi migrants in Australia.
“Friendships aren’t just reaffirmed in times of tragedy,” she said, referring to Australia and New Zealand’s co-operation in the wake of events like the Christchurch terror attack, the White Island volcanic eruption and the Australian bushfires.
“They must stand up to the test of politics too,” she continued.
“And in the face of politics, the New Zealand and Australia relationship has been tested.
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“We appreciate that many Kiwis have taken up the opportunity to live and work in Australia – many more than has happened in reverse. Not every Kiwi migrant will be perfect. But evidence shows that the vast majority are providing a net benefit to Australia.
“They earn more, they are more likely to be employed, and they pay more tax than their Aussie-born counterparts. They are Australia’s best migrants.
“But rather than them being given security to keep contributing, in return their rights are being eroded. Simple rights like assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, even though they pay into the scheme’s levy. Or the ability to join the Defence Force, or even become a federal civil servant.
“Kiwis want to contribute to the place that is now their home, but are not being given the potential to do that to their fullest.”
Ms Ardern then moved on to the specific issue of forced deportations.
“Australia is well within its rights to deport individuals who break your laws. New Zealand does the same. But we have a simple request – send back Kiwis. Genuine Kiwis. Do not deport your people and your problems,” she said, as Mr Morrison listened politely alongside her.
“I have heard countless cases of individuals who on any common sense test identify as Australians.
“Just a few weeks ago I met a woman who moved to Australia, not much older than one year old. She told me she had no connection to our country, but had three children in Australia. She was in a crisis centre, having returned to a country she did not feel was her own.
“I have heard from those who work in our judiciary that they are seeing cases before our courts of individuals who are failing attempts to reintegrate or rehabilitate, because the success of these rehabilitation programs are reliant on a network of people, a network of family, and they have none of those.
“I’m not asking Australia stops the policy. You have deported more than 2000 individuals, and among them will be genuine Kiwis who do need to learn the consequences of their actions.
“We will own our people. We ask that Australia stops exporting theirs.”
As the press conference moved on to questions from reporters, Mr Morrison got a chance to respond to Ms Ardern’s criticism.
“The Australian government’s policy is very clear. We deport non-citizens who have committed crimes in Australia against our community. This policy is applied not specific to one country, but to any country whose citizens are here,” the Australian Prime Minister said.
“You commit a crime here. If convicted, once you have done your time, we send you home. That’s what the Australian policy is. And that policy is framed in Australia’s national interests.”
Mr Morrison said he would have “no objection” to any other country applying the same rule to Australian citizens living abroad.
Ms Ardern hit back immediately, taking issue with Mr Morrison’s definition of sending people “home”.
“Look, I have been absolutely clear. This is corrosive to our relationship,” she said.
“We are not arguing that Australia should not have a deportation policy. They should. We do as well. What we’re asking for is a reciprocal arrangement. New Zealand does not deport those that we consider, for all intents and purposes, to have established themselves as New Zealanders. We only ask that Australia does the same.
“The Prime Minister used a key word in his reference just now. He said that after they have served their time, he sends them ‘home’. The example I used demonstrates that we have countless who have no home in New Zealand. They have no network, they have grown up in Australia. That is their home, and that is where they should stay.”
Mr Morrison continued to be firm in his defence of the government’s policy.
“I would totally expect that the New Zealand government would always make decisions in their national interest, and would take no exception to their sovereign right to do so. Australia will do the same thing,” he said.
“I respect the positions that are put forward by Prime Minister Ardern. But in our government’s view, that is not in Australia’s national interest, to not deport non-citizens who have committed crimes in Australia.
“When you become a citizen, well, you have joined the club, and if you violate our laws at that point, then that is on our watch and Australia has to take care of those situations.
“But if you’re non-citizen, our very clear view – and our government is well known for our clear views when it comes to issues of immigration and border security – if you have committed a crime, and you’re not a citizen of Australia, then you have no right to stay.”
Even after that back-and-forth, the debate still wasn’t over.
“We have a cohort of individuals in Australia who have grown up believing they are Australians. Who consider themselves Australians,” Ms Ardern said.
“Because that has not been determined by a piece of paper, but by their experience in this country. And for some, it will be a shock to find themselves deported to a country they do not know as their own.”
Mr Morrison eventually got the last word, shortly before the press conference wrapped up.
“We can’t have two classes of citizen in this country,” he argued.
“Those who were born in Australia, or have become citizens through our formal process – citizens of Australia enjoy the rights and entitlements and obligations of being citizens. No one else.
“Anyone else who doesn’t hold the title of ‘citizen of Australia’ does not get a special deal. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here. It doesn’t matter whether you turned up yesterday or many years ago.
“If you are not a citizen, and you violate our laws, then under my government’s policies you will not be allowed to remain. You will be returned to the citizenship nationality, which is what I define as your ‘home’.”
Beyond that particular issue, both leaders spoke warmly about the relationship between the two countries, describing Australia and New Zealand as “the closest friends” and guaranteeing they would continue to deeply respect each other.