Have we got a priggish little Goody Two-Shoes government to represent us to the world? Most New Zealanders, I'll wager, completely understand Australia's decisions on dealing with boatloads of people trying to land on its coasts.

If New Zealand was situated north of Australia wouldn't we do exactly the same? You bet your life.

We know this but worse, Aussies know it too. I shudder to think what they thought about the scolding they've had from our new Prime Minister.

Last Saturday I praised her for renewing New Zealand's offer to take 150 detainees from Manus Island without giving Malcolm Turnbull a moral lecture when they met in Sydney the previous weekend. Spoke too soon.


The next day, in Vietnam for Apec, she told reporters she wanted a further meeting with Turnbull at the East Asia summit in Manila on Monday, and this time she mounted the high horse.

"We made the offer because we saw a great need," she said on Sunday. "No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done.

"I see the human face of this and I see the need and the role New Zealand needs to play. I think it's clear that we don't see what's happening there as acceptable, that's why the offer's there."

This is not the Kiwi character. We are a practical, liberal, reserved people who generally do not rush to judgment on those in a situation we don't face. We give them the benefit of the doubt and mind our own business.

Even activists for the Labour Party and Greens are like this in their personal lives. But when they get into government they are not content to run a country, they want to change the world.

They want diplomacy to be an extension of their previous street protests regardless of the effect on our international relations.

That can be the only reason Jacinda Ardern went prim and preachy on Turnbull at Da Nang. She can not have seriously hoped to have another sit-down with him after that outburst.

She did it to satisfy her supporters at home who had been disappointed with the meeting in Sydney. Turnbull had said thanks but no thanks at this stage.


They had been hoping this would be her Tampa moment, a reprise of Helen Clark's gesture in the first months of her government.

But the Tampa was a Norwegian freighter that plucked Australia-bound boat people from the sea after their boat sank and they had nowhere to go.

Manus Island in Papua New Guinea is a camp purpose-built for people turned back from Australia.

We've always been told it's the pits but now that it has been condemned by the PNG Supreme Court, 400 men have barricaded themselves in the compound where they feel safer than in a nearby city where Australia has provided new housing for them.

Even those in the media and academia urging Ardern to strike a righteous stance against Australia must be struggling to make this story tug their heartstrings.

When we see "the human face" of this stand-off on TV, we notice it's entirely male and most of the detainees have travelled a long way from Pakistan or the Middle East.

I've resisted calling them refugees because I think that word should be reserved for people in mortal danger fleeing for their lives.

Last time I assumed refugees' lives were at risk I was accused of abysmal ignorance by Murdoch Stephens, a campaigner for an increase in New Zealand's annual intake. I had not known the UN was wider.

It gives refugee status to people whose lives may not be in danger but have, "a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group". Persecution can mean a denial of civil rights or educational and economic opportunities.

We have real refugees on our television screens at the moment, called Rohingya. They are an unwelcome Muslim minority in north-western Burma whose insurgents have brought down the wrath of the Burmese Army on a genocidal scale.

Villages are being burned, men rounded up and massacred, women raped, babies knifed or thrown in canals. The survivors are leaving their country in terror.

They are "the human face" of refugees in my book. Yet our PM said nothing publicly about that at Apec and when she sat beside Aung San Suu Kyi at dinner I'm sure she was polite. I don't criticise her for that, no Kiwi would.

We are not a nation of holier-than-thou busybodies. We are friendly, moral realists who face facts and credit others with doing the best they can when they are in circumstances we are fortunate not to share. That is how we should be represented to the world.