Given international events, a stoush between New Zealand and Australia over an Australian politician being a New Zealander sounds like a comedy skit.

But the news Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was an unwitting New Zealand citizen risks bringing down the Malcolm Turnbull Government if he has to leave Parliament.

That may explain the extraordinary outburst Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, levelled at the New Zealand Labour Party over news its MP Chris Hipkins had asked parliamentary questions about citizenship after a chat with a staffer for the Australian Labor Party.

It is a big no-no to get involved in other countries' politics and usually assiduously avoided.


Bishop was accusing Labour of breaching that, and of deliberately colluding with the ALP to undermine the Australian Government.

She observed New Zealand was due for an election and warned it would be hard to trust a Labour Administration if there was a change of Government.

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee stirred the bumpy waters further by observing Bishop was justified in her reaction.

Bishop may indeed have been justified in suspecting unholy collusion between Labour and the ALP. It is surely more than coincidence Hipkins should ask questions about the citizenship status of an Australian born to a New Zealand father just when a journalist starts asking about Joyce's Australian father.

But it did not justify Bishop breaching the "no interference" rule to an even more egregious extent than Hipkins by raising the prospect of a souring in transtasman relations just six weeks before an election.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern resisted from making that observation, saying she did not want to inflame matters more and the relationship between Australia and New Zealand was too important for politics.

However, Brownlee could not have looked happier to see Labour under attack for supposed underhand tactics and imperilling the relationship with our most important ally. He made sure to point out that several things relating to the rights of New Zealanders in Australia hung in the balance.

One was the recent decision to make New Zealanders at Australian universities pay the same as international students. Brownlee said that had not yet been implemented and talks were still underway to get Australia to relent.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accuses Labour. Photo / AP
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accuses Labour. Photo / AP

The obvious implication was if Australia went ahead with that, New Zealanders could blame Labour.

That is, of course, rubbish.

The personal relations between the New Zealand and Australian leadership have rarely had a bearing on decisions made, whether good or bad.

Australia has shown no compunction about shafting New Zealanders even when the two leaders were very good friends - it was under John Howard and Helen Clark that New Zealanders' social security rights were removed. It was under John Key and Malcolm Turnbull - self-proclaimed "BFFs" - that Australia moved on the international student fees decision and the deportations of criminals back to New Zealand.

Such decisions will not depend on whether a foreign minister has the pip with an opposition party.

In many ways this was Ardern's first real test as Labour leader. She had to reprimand a senior MP and try to convince Australia Labour was not behind such skulduggery.

Ardern has put a great deal of stock in Hipkins' version of events. If further information comes to light that shows he did have some inkling it was Joyce he was asking about, he cannot expect mercy.

Hipkins may also have only been saved by a day and an Australian journalist.

Had an Australian journalist not asked questions about Joyce's citizenship status the day before Hipkins sent his questions, the chances are it could well have been Hipkins' inquiries that were responsible for the outing of Joyce.

The usual route for a hit job would involve Hipkins sending his information back to his mate in the ALP, and the ALP using that to mount their own hit on Joyce.

Had that happened, Hipkins would indeed warrant a place in the dog box.