Standing next to her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not hesitate to let him know what she thought of his country’s deportation policy, calling it “corrosive” to her country’s relationship with its close ally.
With the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop, Morrison shifted his feet uneasily, as Ardern criticized Australia’s policy of deporting foreign nationals even if they have no significant ties to the country where they are being sent, after they have finished prison sentences.
Insisting that she had spoken privately with Morrison about the matter, she said: “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.”
Morrison meanwhile, defended the policy. “If you have committed a crime, and you’re not a citizen of Australia, then you have no right to stay,” he said.
Some Twitter users in New Zealand and Australia called the press conference Ardern’s “Love Actually” moment, referring to a scene in the popular romantic comedy where the fictional British Prime Minister publicly calls out his American counterpart for not respecting the relationship between their two countries.
On Friday evening local time, “Jacinda” was trending on Twitter in both New Zealand and Australia.
Ardern has been known for taking a strong stance on a number of issues after she became the world’s youngest female leader in October 2017, aged 37. She has since been beaten by Finland’s Sanna Martin, 34.
After she gave birth to Neve Te Aroha in June 2018, becoming only the second woman in history to have a child while an elected head of state, she became the first ever to take maternity leave, although she only took six weeks off.
“I am not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but there are many women who have done it well before I have,” Ardern, the daughter of a police officer and school cafeteria worker, said at the time.
Three months later she again made history as the first world leader to attend the U.N. general assembly meeting with her baby in tow.
She later received widespread praise for her response to the attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in March 2019, when she immediately met with victims families and promised never to say the name of the alleged gunman.
Within days, she announced plans to ban nearly all military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles. Laws were passed in the New Zealand parliament a month later.
She later said she did not understand the United States inability to change gun laws.
Ardern has also questioned the role social media companies play in such attacks and has led efforts, alongside French president Emmanuel Macron to get countries and tech firms to agree to a pledge to eliminate terrorist content online.
Morrison meanwhile, was widely criticized for comments about the actress Pamela Anderson after she called for him to be returned home to Australia in November 2018.
On International Women’s day last March, he was also denounced for an address in which he suggested women’s advancement should not come at the expense of men.
As wildfires decimated huge swathes of the country last December, he was castigated for taking a holiday in Hawaii.
Deportation has been a source of tension between the two nations in recent years and has become an election issue for Ardern after police in New Zealand suggested it was one of the reasons for a rise in domestic criminal gang activity.