17 Feb 2021

Ardern stresses Turkey detainee case not yet resolved

7:29 pm on 17 February 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has struck a more conciliatory tone towards Australia today, after last night's phone call with Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 17/02/21

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

But she wouldn't go into detail about their discussion, sticking broadly to a statement her office released this morning.

She angrily criticised Australia and its Prime Minister Morrison yesterday for "abdicating" responsibility for a terror suspect being detained in Turkey along with her two young children, and the pair spoke last night.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon Ardern said the call was "constructive", both countries now acknowledge the case has legal complexities and they are working through them.

Did she feel differently about the situation after the discussion? She'd "feel differently when we have a final outcome - we don't as yet, and so I'm not going to make any judgment until we see a resolution on this case", Ardern said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a video conference with G20 leaders to discuss the COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Parliament House in Canberra on March 26, 2020.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern discussed the latest spat between the two countries last night. Photo: Gary Ramage / POOL / AFP

As New Zealanders would expect, she said, the government takes "New Zealand's national security interests very, very seriously" but there were still "a lot of unknowns and a lot of hypotheticals", in terms of what will happen to the woman and her children eventually.

"This is still an individual who is at the Turkish border, we're still not yet aware of whether or not there is any intention of conviction off the back of charges, so a bit of water to go on to the bridge yet."

In 2019 a law was introduced to give police significant powers to track and limit the movements of those who have returned after being involved in terrorist activities overseas, through the use of Control Orders.

Ardern said if the woman and her children returned to New Zealand the government would be "making every effort in that scenario, if it were to occur, to ensure that we knew as much as possible, to prepare and to protect New Zealanders...but again, a lot of water to go under the bridge before we get to any point like that".

The minister responsible for New Zealand's spy agencies, Andrew Little, was also tight with the detail, spelling out the obvious that she'd been in Syria, identified as having links to "organisations and forces that are hostile to a range of interests", and was now being detained in Turkey.

He did say New Zealand had been kept informed by other countries about the woman in Syria because of her citizenship and part of that was a notification when she'd left that country; "and given the other kind of geopolitical issues, including with Australia...there's a way to go to sort out what actually happens next".

Little told RNZ her family had been in contact with New Zealand authorities. He would not say whether there were any more New Zealanders in Syria who could be trying to get back to New Zealand, or Australia.

Reaction from the National Party

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins said it was "really important that we can do better as two countries".

With two children involved she said New Zealand had to be careful when looking at any issues around citizenship, but "it certainly seems as though Australia's moved very quickly and obviously caught New Zealand by surprise".

Ardern's handling of the situation hadn't "resulted in the outcome that we would have hoped", Collins said.

"And I'm hopeful there will be a resolution that is more favourable to New Zealand, because I don't think many New Zealanders would think that much, or worry that much about the woman herself ... but there are two innocent children who unfortunately do need to have somebody looking after them and do need to be in a place of safety."

Her MP and foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee downplayed any damage as merely a "tetchy moment" in a close and long-standing relationship - "sort of like the scrap you have with your brother or sister".

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