Australian TV host Andrew Bolt launches extraordinary tirade against 'backstabbing' New Zealand for 'sucking up' to China

In an extraordinary seven-minute tirade, a high-profile Australian television host has accused New Zealand of "backstabbing" Australia and "sucking up" to China by staying quiet on concerns about a World Health Organization (WHO) report into the origins of COVID-19.

Newshub first reported on Thursday morning that New Zealand didn't join its partners in releasing a statement on the WHO report as it wanted more time to analyse the study.

Concerns have been raised about the completeness of the report, with the WHO's Director-General saying the team who undertook it faced "difficulties" getting data from Chinese authorities. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he expects "more timely and comprehensive data-sharing" for future assessments. 

Fourteen countries, including New Zealand's Five Eyes partners, this week released a joint statement "expressing shared concerns" that the study was "significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples". 

Aotearoa, though invited to join, did not release the statement. 

"New Zealand is pleased that the report has now been released," a spokesperson for Kiwi Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Newshub.

"Our technical experts are currently analysing the report. As this is a scientific report, we want to make sure we understand the science before making any comment. We will wait until our experts have finished analysing the report."

New Zealand's absence was noted by Professor Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on China, who questioned at "what point does NZ's quiet shift on China look more like timidity, even appeasement". It's also been covered by a number of international media outlets, such as UK's The Spectator, which asked in an editorial: "Why is New Zealand afraid of criticising China?".

But the fiercest criticism has come from Sky News Australia television host Andrew Bolt. 

Bolt, a controversial conservative figure, told his Bolt Report viewers that while he thought New Zealand was "beautiful", he wanted to ask "what are you doing to us?" 

"Your Government, your Prime Minister. Why are they letting Australia hang in the wind? Why are they not backing us up in this very serious confrontation with the Chinese dictatorship," Bolt questioned. 

He described Jacinda Ardern's Government as "backstabbing" and its absence from the statement as New Zealand's "latest betrayal" and "pandering to this tyranny". 

"What a cop out. New Zealand has plenty of time to check the draft of that report," Bolt said. 

The television host also asked what there was for New Zealand to check, considering the comments from Ghebreyesus.

"This is actually New Zealand ratting out on Australia. Not one to offend China… this is New Zealand sucking up to the Chinese dictatorship," Bolt said.

He said it was part of a "shameful" pattern where New Zealand did little to confront China while Australia was punished by Beijing for calling it out over COVID-19, its actions in Hong Kong, and treatment of the Uighurs.

"May I ask what New Zealand has done while Australia is getting punished for standing up for freedom, which includes New Zealand's freedom? New Zealand sold us out."

However, New Zealand has made numerous public comments on all of those issues and in some cases made stark criticisms of China. 

Back in May, Ardern said Aotearoa supported calls to evaluate COVID-19's origins, but didn't want to see it turn into a witch hunt. 

New Zealand has also raised Beijing's interference in Hong Kong, including just on Friday when Mahuta tweeted Aotearoa was "deeply concerned" by electoral changes in the financial hub.

"Such changes do not keep faith with the Sino-British Joint Declaration & will further erode #HongKong’s democratic institutions and freedom of speech and association."

Mahuta was, however, criticised in January for not joining up to a statement with our other Five Eye partners condemning China for its arrest of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. The minister instead expressed New Zealand's concern independently.

In regard to the human rights breaches in Xinjiang against the Uighur people, New Zealand has signed several international statements condemning their treatment while Prime Minister Ardern raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019.  

Mahuta also released a statement in March with her Australian counterpart Marise Payne supporting sanctions against Chinese officials in Xinjiang. She has done the same thing in regards to Hong Kong.

New Zealand also came into bat for Australia last December when a senior Chinese official shared a digitally-altered image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child. Aotearoa directly expressed its concern about the image with China. 

Despite those examples of camaraderie between New Zealand and Australia, there have been tensions in recent months.

A notable example raised by Bolt was comments by New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O'Connor. In January, he said Australia could better its relationship with China by acting more like New Zealand. Those comments caused an uproar in Canberra and O'Connor later admitted they were unhelpful. 

Bolt called O'Connor a "sell-out" and asked his Kiwi audience: "Aren't you embarrassed that China loves your Trade Minister telling us to kow-tow to Beijing like you do"

New Zealand was also branded China's "useful idiot" by Bolt during his rant. 

"New Zealanders, I love your country, but are you proud that you have a Prime Minister that sells out your friends and freedom to please a dictator? Is there ANZAC tradition so utterly, utterly dead?"

Ardern has consistently raised concern with China over the human rights issues and said this week she will continue to

In response to concerns of friction between the trans-Tasman countries, Ardern last month said our relationship with Australia remained strong.

"There is no breakdown in our relationship at all. We have an excellent relationship with our counterparts in Australia and indeed myself, with PM Morrison, we speak frequently and we work together often."