What's a bit of tough talk among good friends?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is presented with a New Zealand Warriors jersey by his...
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is presented with a New Zealand Warriors jersey by his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, after holding a joint press conference at Government House in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images

Never has an Australian prime minister looked more at home in New Zealand than Scott Morrison on his flying visit to Auckland yesterday.

"Kia ora,'' he said as he stepped out of his limo at Government House to receive a powhiri.

It helps that he lived and worked here in the 1990s and still retains friendships, including his former tourism boss, former cabinet minister Murray McCully.

But he is also more relaxed than his many predecessors, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

At the press conference with Jacinda Ardern, he talked about family, the 600 Aussies who helped out after the Christchurch earthquake, the Kiwis fighting fire in Tasmania, the closeness of the two countries and of whanau.

"It's beyond politics, it's beyond sport on occasions, it goes beyond everything,'' he said.

Talking to National Party leader Simon Bridges later, he said the powhiri had been moving because knew it was about respect, that "mana'' was his favourite Maori word, that it had no equivalent in English.

Mr Turnbull may have understood John Key but Mr Morrison, or Scomo, as he is known, appears to understand New Zealand better.

Having encountered Ms Ardern before at the East Asia Summit in Singapore, he looked genuinely relaxed with her as they held a joint press conference after the annual formal leaders' talks.

The level of comfort and connection undoubtedly made Ms Ardern's decision to sock it to him over deportations easier.

It has rarely been done in the transtasman relationship. It has been regarded as "not done'' in public, unless in the nature of an insulting quip by David Lange or Sir Robert Muldoon.

Ms Ardern did not mince words and instead employed the strongest criticism yet of any New Zealand prime minister or foreign minister about deportations of Kiwis.

In her prepared remarks at the top of the press conference, she said the pair had discussed these.

"In my view, this issue has become corrosive in our relationship over time.

"I made it clear that New Zealand has no issue with Australia taking a dim view of newly arrived non-citizens committing crimes.

"But equally, the New Zealand people have a dim view of the deportation of people who move to Australia as children and have grown up there with, often, little or no lasting connection to here.

"I'm sure it is a matter we will continue to discuss.''

Mr Morrison gave no hint Australia would be changing its laws as a result of Ms Ardern's concerns, but did say they would work through individual cases sensitively.

The pair exchanged NRL gifts, a wee Cronulla Sharks jersey, pink Ugg boots and a koala toy for Ms Ardern's 9-month old Neve, and for him, a Warriors jersey to remind him his club had "stolen'' Shaun Johnson.

He has headed back to Australia to try to beat the odds by winning the election in May.

Haere ra. 

- By Audrey Young

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