Australia’s decision to deport New Zealand-born criminals is still a “work in progress” but the Kiwi foreign minister refused to criticise leadership hopeful Peter Dutton over the policy.
The ex-home affairs minister kicked out more Kiwi-born criminals than ever before, many of them who have lived in Australia since childhood.
But NZ deputy prime minister Winston Peters refused to criticise Mr Dutton directly about the policy, which has sparked anger in his country.
“Some of these things that have been raised are a result of recent political decisions and they still a work in progress,” Mr Peters told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Mr Peters refused to say how Mr Dutton’s difficult history with New Zealand could impact the relationship if he becomes prime minister.
“I don’t want to get involved in domestic circumstance, other than to say whatever the outcome is we want to see Australia strong, helpful, (and) a leadership influence in the Pacific,” he said.
“I will just say, as a politician, when you go into a spill, you’ve got to take your abacus.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met Mr Peters to discuss the strategy for the Pacific, which he said was growing in importance.
The Pacific Islands Forum will meet on Nauru next month and Mr Peters said the debt that Pacific countries owed to other nations, including China, would be discussed.
“If your indebtedness to any country is 42 per cent… it depends on whether you can pay it back. And at 42 per cent that is far too high for Tonga and Pacific nations,” he said.
Ms Bishop said Australia and New Zealand wouldn’t dictate the agenda at the Pacific meeting, but instead listen to what they have to say.
Mr Peters also said he was waiting for an explanation from China about its Belt and Road Initiative, which the Asian nation is using to build infrastructure around the globe.
The program has drawn criticism over the way it has landed poorer nations with debt they cannot pay back.