David Parker insists Australia remains New Zealand's "most important partnership" in the wake of a dramatic current affairs show commercial from across the Tasman questioning whether we've "ditched" Australia for a "fast Chinese buck".
The journalist behind the upcoming 60 Minutes Australia story is now also distancing himself from the promotional video, which contains language New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner believes is offensive to Kiwis.
The commercial, which features a deep voiceover and melodramatic background music, asks "just what are the Kiwis up to now" and if New Zealand is turning into "New Xi-Land", a play on Chinese President Xi Jinping's name.
"We thought they were our best friends, but it looks like they've ditched us for a fast Chinese buck," the advert's voiceover says.
It comes amid debate internationally about whether New Zealand is doing enough to express concern about human rights abuses in China, our largest trading partner.
While New Zealand has condemned China independently and in joint statements with Australia, Aotearoa's been accused of cosying up to the Asian superpower by not being party to some Five Eyes statements.
That's led some commentators to suggest New Zealand is "backstabbing" our trans-Tasman partner, who has been hit hard by trade tariffs imposed by Beijing in retaliation for it speaking up against human rights breaches and calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Labour minister David Parker, who was the Trade Minister last term, told The AM Show on Friday Australia remained a significant partner for New Zealand.
"There is a serious underlying issue about the tensions that are there in the world at the moment. Our most important partnership in the world is Australia and we do a lot to try and keep that alive through successive governments," he said.
"There are, for both of us, sensitive relationships with China. We are both trying to manage that as best we can."
He expects that will be discussed between Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison when the Australian Prime Minister comes to New Zealand. He's expected to arrive on Sunday, but the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne has thrown that visit into question.
Appearing alongside Parker on The AM Show on Friday, National MP Simon Bridges said the commercial had similar vibes to the Days of Our Lives soap opera and is "overly melodramatic".
But he said we shouldn't be "too light about this", with the video touching on real issues.
"We do have a repair job to do with Aussie. Damien O'Connor is there - and they obviously have quite a different position to New Zealand on this stuff - saying 'show some respect to China.'"
He's referencing comments from the current Trade Minister in which O'Connor said in January Australia should practice more diplomacy with China in order to better its relationship.
Bridges also repeated previous comments he's made about China being increasingly aggressive, with "real human rights issues" he "wouldn't want to be light about".
But the video has been widely ridiculed online.
Tom Steinfort, the journalist behind the upcoming story, told NewstalkZB on Thursday night that people should watch the full episode on Sunday.
"It is an interesting debate and I think people have got pretty strong opinions on both sides of this discussion," he said. "It has been drawing attention for some time, why New Zealand hasn't joined its traditional allies in Five Eyes in signing these condemnations of China's human rights violations."
Steinfort also distanced himself from the promotion when asked about the "fast Chinese buck" line.
"In terms of the lines in the promo, I don't write the promo. I am busy scripting a story for the weekend at the moment… we do get both sides of the debate."
He was also questioned on how he felt about the "New Xi-land" line, which New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon told Newshub would likely offend Kiwis.
"It has certainly got people talking hasn't it," Steinfort told NewstalkZB.
The journalist went on to say that since the promotion came out he had been contacted by the Prime Minister's Office wanting to ensure there is a Government voice in his piece.
Ardern told Newshub on Thursday that she hadn't seen the trailer, but understood it was "causing a little bit of amusement online".
"Obviously, I would completely disagree with the way that they are framing New Zealand and our relationship with Australia," the Prime Minister said.
"I think the response online is probably an indication of how New Zealanders are receiving it."
She's previously said there is "no breakdown" in our relationship with Australia, despite issues like Australia's 501 immigration policy.
Much of the criticism of New Zealand's position on China followed Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta saying in April that she was "uncomfortable" expanding the Five Eyes' remit to comment on issues relating to non-security matters.
That sparked a wave of criticism overseas, with some commentators erroneously saying New Zealand was leaving the Five Eyes and politicians claiming Aotearoa was ditching its traditional partners in favour of China.
Mahuta has since said New Zealand is committed to the Five Eyes but must maintain a mature relationship with China even when there are issues on which the two countries "do not, cannot and will not agree".