Nanaia Mahuta's comments about the Five Eyes alliance this week "blindsided" Australian officials, according to a new report released as the Aussie Foreign Affairs Minister arrives in New Zealand.
Mahuta on Monday said New Zealand was "uncomfortable" with expanding the remit of the intelligence-sharing partnership to comment on issues broader than those relating to security.
"New Zealand has been very clear, certainly in this term and since we've held the portfolio, not to invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact on messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes," the minister said.
"We've not favoured that type of approach and have expressed it to Five Eyes partners."
That came following criticism this year of Mahuta for not being party to Five Eyes statements on Beijing's interference in Hong Kong. New Zealand has, however, raised concerns independently and in joint statements with Australia on that issue and others.
But according to a new report from the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia officials were "blindsided" by Mahuta expressing her unease with using the Five Eyes to pressure China. The report says her language has "real consequences".
"Our nearest neighbour did not inform Australia of its position before Mahuta this week voiced her government’s discomfort about the 'expanding remit' of Five Eyes," the SMH reports.
"While Wellington’s conspicuous absence from a few joint statements had caused unease in Canberra over the past year, Australian officials did not know about New Zealand’s official opposition to using the spy network to exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing."
This latest incident of trans-Tasman friction comes as Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday for meetings with Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It's expected the Five Eyes issue will be raised.
While British media have reacted to Mahuta's comments by suggesting the Five Eyes had "become four", the SMH report says Australian officials aren't suggesting New Zealand be kicked out of the alliance. But Canberra and Washington are "concerned by Wellington’s attempt to curtail its expansion".
"In Canberra, joking references to the 'Four Eyes' have only increased in recent months."
Frustration across the ditch at Mahuta's comments isn't isolated to Australian officials.
Andrew Bolt, a right-wing conservative television commentator, has again accused New Zealand of being reluctant to criticise Beijing, despite Aotearoa having done so multiple times in the last month. He unleashed on "backstabbing" Aotearoa in a seven-minute tirade earlier this month.
"New Zealand is selling out Australia and the West to keep sweet with the genocidal Chinese dictatorship, which is its big trade partner," he told his SkyNews viewers on Tuesday night.
He described Mahuta "as woke as they come and undermining our security" and believed her recent comments were "weakening the Five Eyes partnership."
"She said, essentially, the Five Eyes arrangement was just four eyes."
Mahuta didn't suggest New Zealand no longer believed in the Five Eyes, but instead that the group shouldn't be the first point of messaging on non-security matters. On Tuesday, Ardern reaffirmed New Zealand's commitment to the alliance.
In his rant, much of which is repeated in a column published in the HeraldSun on Wednesday night, Bolt also takes issue with Mahuta's using the dragon and the taniwha as a metaphor of China and New Zealand's relationship.
"What woke mystic babble... New Zealand's Foreign Minister is so dizzy with her new-age earth worship and old nature gods, for her China is actually an ally in the fight against global warming, which seems, to her, far more important than the danger of war."
Mahuta said she used "the dragon and the taniwha" as they have the ability to adapt to changing conditions.
"I see the taniwha and the dragon as symbols of the strength of our particular customs, traditions and values, that aren’t always the same, but need to be maintained and respected.
"And on that virtue we have together developed the mature relationship we have today."
Mahuta told Newshub on Wednesday evening the Five Eyes was a "vital security and intelligence partnership for New Zealand" that allows members to "cooperate across intelligence, police, border security, defence, cyber and other security-related portfolios".
New Zealand would continue to engage with the group "as we always have", she said.
"There will be some areas on which it's useful to coordinate through the Five Eyes platform; but there will be other areas - human rights for example - where we want to look to building a broader coalition of countries to take positions on issues of common interest.