Terrorist citizenship row: Jacinda Ardern's call with Scott Morrison 'constructive', both acknowledge 'complexities'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had a "constructive" phone call with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison after clashing over the citizenship of a woman accused of terrorism. 

Ardern lashed out at Australia on Tuesday for revoking the citizenship of a woman - named by ABC as Suhayra Aden of Melbourne - who tried to illegally cross the border from Syria to Turkey, leaving New Zealand to pick up the pieces thanks to her dual New Zealand citizenship. 

"It is wrong that New Zealand should shoulder the responsibility for a situation involving a woman, who has not lived in New Zealand since she was six, has resided in Australia since that time, has her family in Australia and left for Syria from Australia on her Australian passport," Ardern said. 

Morrison hit back at a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday afternoon, saying his job was to protect Australians from terrorists "enjoying privileges" of Australian citizenship. 

"My job is Australia's interests. That's my job. It's my job as the Australian Prime Minister to put Australia's national security interests first and I think all Australians would agree with that," he told reporters. 

Morrison said he was scheduled to speak with Ardern later on Tuesday, and the details of that conversation have been revealed by Ardern's office. 

"The call was constructive," a spokesperson said. "Regardless of the steps taken in this case to date, both New Zealand and Australia acknowledge that this case now has a number of complexities. We are working through those issues in the spirit of our relationship."

Morrison referred to a 2015 law change in Australia where dual citizens aged 14 years and above can have their citizenship stripped if they engage in terrorism. 

"That happens automatically and that has been a known part of Australia's law for some time," Morrison said. "I understand that the New Zealand Government has some issues with that."

The 2015 law change meant that dual citizenship was revoked automatically. But an amendment introduced in 2018 meant it was up to the Home Affairs Minister to make the decision. 

A video published by Yeni Safak, a newspaper in Turkey, reportedly showing New Zealand woman and alleged terrorist Suhayra Aden arrested near the Syrian border.
A video published by Yeni Safak, a newspaper in Turkey, reportedly showing New Zealand woman and alleged terrorist Suhayra Aden arrested near the Syrian border. Photo credit: Yeni Safak newspaper / screenshot

Ardern said any "fair-minded person" would consider the woman an Australian.

She said the Government believes Australia has "abdicated its responsibilities" by cancelling the woman's citizenship, and has shared her view with Morrison. 

"Where dual citizenship is involved, our view has been that it's for New Zealand and Australia to resolve the most appropriate response and ensure that we do not strip citizenship and render someone stateless, especially when children are involved," Ardern said.

"We continue to urge Australia to cooperate in the management of these cases. The welfare of the children also needs to be at the forefront in this situation. These children were born in a conflict zone through no fault of their own."

Ardern said going to New Zealand, where they have no immediate family, would not be in the family's best interests and that Australia would be more suitable. 

"We know that young children thrive best when surrounded by people who love them. We will be raising these points with the Australian Government," she said. 

"We will be engaging with the Turkish authorities, and given there are children involved, their welfare will be top of mind in our response."