Bishop defends Ardern comments

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Getty Images
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Getty Images

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has denied overstepping the line in saying she would find it hard to trust a Labour Government - and says she takes Jacinda Ardern "at her word".

As the fall-out from Labour MP Chris Hipkins involvement in the citizenship saga surrounding Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce continues, Ms Bishop appeared on Sky News Australia and was repeatedly asked if her extraordinary comments went too far.

"Not at all," she said. "After I said that the New Zealand Labour leader came out and conceded that the conduct was wrong, that it was unacceptable, that it should never have happened."

Asked by host Kieran Gilbert if she accepted Labour leader Ms Ardern's comments and would now move on, Ms Bishop said: "I take her at her word".

Mr Gilbert suggested Ms Bishop had made her comments because New Zealand was a smaller country, telling Ms Bishop she wouldn't have made the same comments if an MP was involved in China, Indonesia, or India.

"I reject that," Ms Bishop replied.

"I reject the fact it seems to be acceptable conduct in the minds of the commentariat here for the shadow minister for foreign affairs to use her office to set-up a Labour MP in New Zealand to ask questions in the New Zealand Parliament."

Ms Ardern last night moved to quell a ruction with the Australian Government, telling Australia's High Commissioner the actions of MP Chris Hipkins were inappropriate and refusing to criticise Bishop for her comments on Labour, saying she did not wish to inflame the situation further.

Ms Ardern was in Christchurch on Wednesday launching a new mental health policy.

Asked if Ms Bishop was interfering in New Zealand's election, Ms Ardern said she had made it clear she did not want the controversy to get in the way of the Australia-New Zealand relationship.

"I would welcome a conversation with the Minister to clarify from our perspective what has happened. And to, again, make sure that we impart how important our relationship is. And I'm not letting this issue get in the way of that.

"My focus is on our election here in New Zealand. That is where people would expect my focus to be. Politics is a constant rock and a hard place - I'm currently wedged between Ayers Rock and New Zealand.

"But ultimately, leadership is about dealing with these issues as they arise. I have dealt with it. This is not going to disrupt our relationship with Australia, and now we have an election to get on with."

Barnaby Joyce. Photo: Getty Images
Barnaby Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

On Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee's criticisms of Labour, Ms Ardern said she would expect opponents to make politics out of the situation.

Ms Ardern called in High Commissioner Peter Woolcott after Ms Bishop said she could not trust a future Labour Government if it had colluded with Australia's Labor Party to try to undermine the Government by uncovering the fact Joyce was a New Zealand citizen.

Ms Ardern said she told Woolcott MP Chris Hipkins' actions were inappropriate in asking questions that related to the issue of citizenship by descent after a conversation with an Australian Labor Party staffer, but stopped short of apologising.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported Marcus Ganley, Australian Senator Penny Wong's chief of staff, was the Australian Labor Party staffer who spoke to Ms Hipkins - a conversation Mr Hipkins said prompted him to ask questions of Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne on the legal citizenship status of an Australian born to a New Zealand father.

The question of New Zealand citizenship of Australian ministers was raised again this week after it was revealed Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce was a New Zealand citizen.  On Wednesday, Mr Joyce told Parliament he had renounced his citizenship.

Mr Ganley was an adviser to former Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen during the Labour Government until 2008. He then advised Phil Goff as Opposition Leader.

Mr Hipkins has denied knowing there were questions about Joyce's citizenship, saying he asked the questions of Mr Dunne to clear up the law.

Ms Wong told the Australian Senate on Wednesday questions about Mr Joyce's citizenship had been asked by the media for some time, including in July.

"The story became public as a result of media inquiries. At no stage did my staff member request that questions be placed on notice in the New Zealand Parliament. End of story.

"Second, I did not know, nor did my staff member, that the New Zealand Labour Party had placed those questions on notice, until the story had broken. He did not know, and neither did I, until Monday."

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