Jacinda Ardern meets Anthony Albanese: 501s, China in Pacific, climate change likely top of agenda for sit-down

Jacinda Ardern is jetting off overseas again on Thursday afternoon, this time for a sit-down with the leader of New Zealand's closest partner: Australia.

The Aussies have just elected the Labor party, ending nearly 10 years of the Coalition's rule and potentially bringing to power a government more in tune with the Ardern Administration.

The Kiwi Prime Minister will become the first foreign head of government to meet with new Australian chief Anthony Albanese on Australian soil. The pair have already had several phone conversations since Albanese was elected in May

After Ardern flies into Sydney, the duo will have an informal dinner on Thursday night before a proper bilateral meeting on Friday. 

On the agenda will be everything from the usual gripes around 501 deportations and Kiwis' rights in Australia, to China's growing presence in the Pacific, and climate change.

The issue of deporting people to New Zealand who have few ties here will likely be the most followed by Kiwis, particularly given the current spike in gang tensions. 

"I am very clear with any Australian administration that this is a significant issue for New Zealand," Ardern said at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference on Monday.

"We accept that Australia has a deportation policy, because New Zealand has a deportation policy. Our concern has been, we have seen some of the really extreme examples, those who have little to no connection to New Zealand, who are being deported into New Zealand, and then we see the consequences of their anti-social behaviour and their lack of connection here at home."

Ardern repeatedly raised the Australia's 501 deportation policy with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, even going as far as to call him out for deporting "your people and your problems" while standing just metres from him at a Sydney press conference. 

Despite that, there was no progress. Newshub revealed earlier this year that so-called 501 deportees have been convicted of more than 8000 offences in New Zealand since 2015. 

Section 501 of Australia's Migration Act has long been a significant point of contention between Canberra and Wellington. It allows Australia to send people back to their home country if they don't pass a character test - such as going to prison for more than 12 months - regardless of whether they still have links to that nation. 

The Prime Minister may find more favour with Albanese than she did with Morrison, who was well-known for his hardline immigration stance. 

The Guardian reported ahead of the Australian election that Labor could tweak the country's immigration rules so decisions around deportation better take into account the length of time someone has been in Australia.

Ardern didn't get anywhere on 501s with Morrison.
Ardern didn't get anywhere on 501s with Morrison. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Issues in the Pacific - particularly the geopolitical situation with China and climate change - are also going to be front of mind.

Tensions between Australia and China, which really took off after Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020, are only continuing to escalate.

The Albanese government has continued Morrison's approach to the Asian superpower, raising concerns about the security and economic agreements Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been seeking during his recent tour of the Pacific Islands. This week, new Defence Minister Richard Marles accused a Chinese fighter jet of putting an Australian military plane at risk, setting off the latest war of words between the two countries.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's stance on China is only growing more hawkish with similar opposition to Beijing's security deals in the Pacific. The Chinese Foreign Ministry lashed out last week after New Zealand and the United States released a joint statement reiterating those concerns as well as condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

But Ardern won't want Pacific leaders to think New Zealand and Australia are meeting to discuss the region behind their backs. 

Over the past week, she's been quick to answer questions about issues in the region by saying they will discussed by all Pacific nations at the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Ardern gave an impassioned retort on Tuesday to allegations from the Opposition that Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has been absent from the Pacific, allowing China to move in.

"I have been frustrated by some of the commentary. I feel like some of the commentary we have seen does a disservice to the Pacific. These are sovereign nations who have had relationships with China that span many years, as New Zealand does," Jacinda Ardern said.

"The idea that they are somehow unable to determine their own relationships with China and that somehow [they'd] be dictated or persuaded by visits from New Zealand or Australia sits totally against our view that it is about partnership."

Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi is touring the Pacific.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi is touring the Pacific. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Climate change will also inevitably be discussed with Albanese. 

Ardern on Tuesday acknowledged that Labor's election was a "significant step change" for policy and rhetroic around climate change in Australia, after little action from the Coalition. 

"We've been very careful about making sure that we getting our own house in order. Particularly when we've been in the Pacific, where we have often been asked about Australia's position on climate change. 

"Our view is we had to make sure that we were doing our bit rather than casting around at the position of other nations. But I'm sure that what has already been projected with climate change being a priority [by Australia] will be welcomed by the region."

Ardern's said the US' Indo-Pacific Economic Framework - seen as a counter to China - will also be discussed, as well as AUKUS.

Given AUKUS' current focus on nuclear technology, it's unlikely New Zealand would join it, but we could take some third-party role. 

According to a senior White House official, Ardern didn't specifically discuss AUKUS with US President Joe Biden last week, but there is "an awareness of the potential that AUKUS offers as a platform for perhaps opening up other apertures for cooperation in the future".