NZ Opposition Leader says Christchurch terrorist can stay there

New Zealand's Opposition Leader Judith Collins has slapped down calls for the Christchurch mosque terrorist to be sent back to Australia, warning a flood of criminals in Australian jails could be sent the other way.

In an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on New Zealand's foreign policy, the looming October 17 election and the global coronavirus pandemic, Collins also defended her country's close economic and trade relationship with China.

National Party leader Judith Collins.Credit:Getty Images

The newly-minted Opposition Leader, who started in the job on July 14 and faces a tough fight to beat the popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said she "doubted very much" that an Australia-New Zealand travel bubble would be able to start in 2020.

And she criticised Ardern for seeking to publicly embarrass Scott Morrison on home soil when she took him to task for Australia deporting convicted criminals back to New Zealand during a joint press conference back in February.

Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 29, was sentenced to life without parole on Thursday after pleading guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of committing an act of terrorism for his attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on March 15, 2019.

New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, whose NZ First Party is in coalition with Ardern's government, has demanded Australia take back the Christchurch gunman.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney in February. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Morrison and Ardern have spoken since the sentencing. A spokesman for Morrison reiterated that no formal request has been made by New Zealand and said the Australian Prime Minister was still open to considering it.

"Foremost in the PM's mind are the views of the families involved," the spokesman said.

Collins said while "the tendency in New Zealand is for people to want to send him back", she did not support such a move.

A former minister for police and for corrections, Collins warned that Australian state governments "would really love … to send back every Kiwi in every jail in Australia".

"We have always resisted that on basis they committed crimes in Australia," she said, adding that the reciprocal legal arrangements to facilitate a transfer were not in place either.

"Last time I checked, there were around 800 to 900 Kiwis in Australian prisons. At the moment, Australia deports people after they come out of prison."

Sending Tarrant back to Australia could potentially open the door to that cohort being sent back sooner – and major legal changes would be needed, otherwise those convicted criminals would have to be released into the community.

"He (Tarrant) has committed his crime in New Zealand, he has been sentenced in New Zealand, he can go and serve out his sentence," she said.

On China, which is both New Zealand's top export (24.2 per cent) and import (19.8 per cent) destination – Australia is second – Collins pushed back at suggestions her country was too reliant on trade with the rising superpower.

"We have a free-trade agreement with Australia which has served us very well. We have been huge proponents of free trade, as have Australia," she said.

"I would say to our American friends who think we are overly dependent [on China] give us a free-trade agreement or stop complaining."

NZ Trade Minister David Parker said in a recent interview that officials were still working behind the scenes to set up a travel bubble between the two countries, but community transmission of coronavirus would have to fall to zero before the proposal takes off.

Collins, who has criticised Ardern's handling of quarantine arrangements for returned travellers, said the travel bubble "is not going to happen until people are absolutely confident at the border".

"I doubt it very much [happening in 2020], my advice to inbound tourism operators is being in hibernation for a bit," she said.

"Tourism is very important but we can’t risk everything else."

Asked how New Zealand's foreign policy would change if she won the October 17 election, Collins said there wasn't a huge difference between her approach and that of Ardern – with one caveat.

"Obviously I would not come to Australia and try to embarrass the Prime Minister of Australia in a press conference," she said, adding that Ardern's comments did not reflect how a leader should behave.

Ardern took Morrison to task in February for Australia's policy of deporting convicted criminals after they had served their jail terms, describing the policy as corrosive and that some of the 2000 New Zealanders deported in the last six years clearly identified as Australian.

"We will own our people. We ask that Australia stops exporting theirs," she said.

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