Trans-Tasman row over terror suspect deepens as Ardern accuses Australia of exporting problems

5:53 am on 17 February 2021

Power Play - Trans-Tasman relations have taken a dramatic turn for the worse after a hospital pass from Australia over a suspected terrorist and two young children detained at the Turkish border.

A 26-year-old New Zealand citizen and two children were taken to court at Hatay under security measures. Turkye's Ministry of National Defence said they tried to enter from Syria illegally.

The New Zealand woman, right, and two children were taken to court at Hatay under security measures. Photo: AFP / Anadolu Agency

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been left steaming after Australia "abdicated" responsibility for the woman suspected of links to ISIS, caught trying to enter Turkey from Syria illegally.

Named by the ABC as Suhayra Aden and "known" to the respective intelligence and law enforcement authorities, the woman had dual Australian and New Zealand citizenship, so initially was a matter for both.

Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison had talked about how they could work together once the woman surfaced and questions about her future arose, presumably as she was one of the women dubbed 'jihadi brides' travelling from Australia to join the ISIS fight five or six years ago.

Their discussion came to a screaming halt when Australia, without informing Ardern, revoked the woman's citizenship, dropping the politically-charged problem straight into New Zealand's lap.

The presence of the children has escalated this to a level that will surely strain, or even shift, the relationship between two countries that characterise each other as the closest of friends and allies.

Ardern was clearly furious while laying out exactly why the woman should have been the responsibility of Australia: she moved there from New Zealand when she was six, still has family there, and travelled to Syria from Australia on an Australian passport.

New Zealand can rail against unfair and "wrong" actions, but Morrison will continue to play hardball, expressed in the vote-rich rhetoric of protecting Australia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison attend the signing of the Indigenous Collaboration Arrangement at Admiralty House in Sydney on February 28, 2020.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (File photo). Photo: BIANCA DE MARCHI / POOL / AFP

He's shown himself fully prepared to throw this country under the bus in the process, however, it's not New Zealand voters Morrison has to worry about.

It's just the latest circumstance in which New Zealand feels it's been dumped on from a great height, sharpening Ardern's fury and obvious sense of injustice.

"We will put our hands up when we need to own the situation; we expected the same of Australia, they did not act in good faith," she told reporters.

And harking back to another large bone of contention - the ongoing policy of Australia deporting the so-called 501s, criminals with no family or long term connection to New Zealand, some now responsible for hardcore gang activity back here.

"I think New Zealand, frankly, is tired of having Australia export its problems, but now there are two children involved," cautioned Ardern.

Both National and Labour prime ministers have taken the "high road" for many years, appealing to the Australian prime minister of the day, but never openly contemplating retaliatory action like sending Australians with criminal convictions back across the ditch.

The argument was broadly: "two wrongs do not make a right" and New Zealand would not stoop to the same level. The reality is the numbers would be very small proportionate to those Australia has deported and New Zealand, as the much smaller country, has much less economic and diplomatic leverage.

Regardless, New Zealand now has to navigate the future of the woman and two young children and this country is her only official link.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry refuses to confirm the children's citizenship status.

However in general terms, if a New Zealand citizen has a child overseas they can be registered as a "citizen by descent" and can get a passport.

This confers the ability to travel on a New Zealand passport and "mostly have the same rights as any NZ citizen".

Politicians have been grappling with these likely consequences of the ISIS conflict, and ones that are close to home.

The 'jihadi brides' were a big story some years ago when the head of the Security Intelligence Service couldn't rule out up to 12 New Zealand women having travelled to Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq in 2015 to become wives of fighters.

It was later revealed none had actually left from New Zealand but from Australia, exactly as this woman did.

They and others suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, either at home or abroad, have been tracked and are on an active watchlist.

With ISIS having largely collapsed and the region in chaos, more people emerging from the conflict looking for help, or to come home, could become more common; but for now, New Zealand has a challenge on its hands.

In 2019 a law was put in place to give police significant powers to track and limit the movements of those who had returned to this country having been involved in terrorist activities overseas but to impose those Control Orders they still have to make the case.

Ardern has not ruled out bringing the three back to New Zealand and is clearly being driven by the welfare of the two children whom she says "were born in a conflict zone through no fault of their own".

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