Contrary to popular belief, there is often a fine line between pragmatism and idealism. The art of welding the two together is what makes for great public presentation – and that can often lead to a better outcome for everyone involved.
It’s about setting goals, and achieving those practically. The new Labour government has done the right thing in doubling the refugee quota. Not only are we one of the worst in the world (per capita) for taking in refugees, but a lot of our international capital has been based on our sensible humanitarian work. We have been the voice of reason every time we have had a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and are respected for it. We have taken a bold stance on a variety of issues in New Zealand’s short history (look at Rwanda and apartheid) and often we have been on the right side of history.
This is what irritates me about Jacinda caving to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. This was her Tampa moment, her time to shine and walk the talk. And yet she has said nothing when Turnbull placated her with a ‘maybe’ because they’re waiting for Trump to honour a deal made with Australia when Obama was in charge. Trump has claimed it is the “worst deal ever” and has little appetite for refugees. They haven’t even agreed on a number. Meanwhile, hundreds are in third world conditions which are getting worse by the hour.
I understand that we must be diplomatic in our relationship with our ANZAC neighbour. And I think Jacinda has done so with her response to Australia hiking uni fees for kiwis by three times the current amount. She has said she can’t let that slide, and fair enough. She hasn’t been aggressive, and dealt with this blow from Australia well. John Key did the same when Australia slashed entitlements for kiwis living there. Both leaders dealt the hand they were played with admirable temperament.
But here’s the kicker – the 606 refugees stranded on Manus Island have, legally, nothing to do with Australia. The courts found it was illegal to have them held in Papua New Guinea and so they shut them down. Now they have been days without food, water and sanitation. One recently needed urgent medical attention. They fear to move because of the locals are antagonizing them and have made it clear they are not wanted. Jacinda does not have to talk to Turnball at all.
Here’s where practicality and principle provides the best outcome for everyone. Jacinda can broker a deal with Papua New Guinea, include the refugees in our official United Nations quota and bring this humanitarian crises to a close. She makes a bold stand against an Australia who is increasingly dismissive of us, and once again raises New Zealand’s profile on the international stage. She makes up for the quasi-disaster that was the selection of Trevor Mallard by being a strong leader. And Turnbull no longer has to worry about the increasing domestic political ramifications. And let’s be real – Turnbull is worried about “boat people” coming to Australia. Well, they’re desperate. They will come regardless. Nobody in a positon where they place their lives in jeopardy to board a rickety boat facilitated by a shady people smuggler and cross the ocean is going to care about Australasian grandstanding.
I think it’s feasible. It is principled and idealist. But we need that in a government. And frankly, it’s the right thing to do.
Damon Rusden is a chef, journalist and law student with an avid belief in civic education and accountability. He was also a Green Party candidate.