Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described difficult conversations with Australia as being "gnarly''.
Ahead of their formal bilateral at Kirribilli House, Ardern told her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, that their relationship was strong enough to get through those tougher talks.
"We do have some gnarly issues to discuss, but actually we're strong enough that we can handle when it gets gnarly,'' she said.
"We speak frankly, probably more frankly than most international relationships... but that's the nature of who we are.''
Ardern had earlier been expected to confront Morrison about Australia's hardline deportation policy today.
And she did so during a press conference where the two leaders clearly had different views.
Relationship 'being tested'
Ardern began by acknowledging trans-Tasman co-operation - before saying that friendships "must stand up to the test of politics, too".
"And in the face of politics, the New Zealand - Australia relationship is being tested."
She said while not every Kiwi migrant to Australia would be perfect, evidence showed that the vast majority were providing a net benefit to Australia.
"They earn more, are more likely to be employed and pay more tax than their Aussie born counterparts - they are Australia's best migrants. But rather than them being given security to keep contributing, in return their rights have been eroded."
She made a direct statement to Morrison as he stood beside her: "Do not deport your people and your problems."
She was referring to criminals deported from Australia who have no family or long term connections to New Zealand.
Furthermore, she said, those criminals who have brought serious criminal and gang activities to New Zealand shores.
She described Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive" in the two countries' relationship.
"Australia is well within its rights to deport individuals who break your laws. New Zealand does the same. But we have a simple request. Send back Kiwis, genuine Kiwis - do not deport your people, and your problems," Ardern said at the press conference."
She had heard "countless cases of individuals who, on any common sense test, identify as Australians".
She was not asking Australia to stop the policy as there would be "genuine kiwis who do have to learn the consequences of their actions".
"But amongst those 2000 are individuals who were too young to become criminals on our watch. They were too young to become patched gang members. Too young to be organised criminals. We will own our people. We ask that Australia stop exporting theirs."
Ardern reaffirmed New Zealand would "continue to maintain rights for Australians in New Zealand", following a threat by the National Party to deport serious criminals back to Australia.
"We do not wish to have a race to the bottom and we remain confident that by continuing to work together, we will find solutions that reaffirm just how important this relationship is to us."
Morrison replied by saying: "The Australian government's policy is very clear. We deport non-citizens who have committed crime in Australia against our community. This policy is applied not specific to one country, but to any country whose citizens are here.
"That policy is framed in Australia's national interest, and we would have no objection to any country anywhere who would apply the same rule in terms of Australians who commit crimes in other places."
He said he respected what Ardern had told himself and the media but added: "In Australia's view, that is not in Australia's national interest to not deport non-citizens who have committed crimes in Australia."
Ahead of their private meeting at Kirribilli House, Morrison and Ardern had thanked each other for the way their two countries had helped in times of tragedy in the last year.
Morrison acknowledged the more than 400 New Zealanders who helped with the fires, saying it was a display of "pure Anzac spirit".
"Everywhere I went I could pick up the accent, I'd say kia ora,'' he said.
He mentioned it being nearly a year since the Christchurch mosque attacks and what the countries had been through since with the Whakaari/White Island eruption and now being in the midst of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Ardern said today was a chance to have significant discussions that were a level of contact she had with no other leader.
"That's how it should be - the fact that we can pick up the phone in unfortunate situations has had a very tangible and practical effect for us,'' she said.
The response from Australia to the Whakaari/White Island eruption "spoke to the closeness of the relationship''.
On the bushfires, Ardern said she couldn't "convey the depth of feeling New Zealanders felt''.
"There was a real sense of proximity, the smoke coming over, New Zealanders saw how devastating it was and they wanted to help and I think they craved the opportunity to send what they could.
"In some cases they might have sent more than you wanted,'' she said.