“Not since the old days of worrying about Soviet Russia, that is how long since we have had to worry about these sort of things,” he told Sky News.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went further, casting doubt on whether Canberra could work with New Zealand Labour if it won a general election scheduled for next month.
“I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia,” she told reporters.
Her remarks were labelled “false claims” by NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who lodged a formal complaint with the Australian High Commission in Wellington.
– ‘Baa-naby’ –
The turmoil saw the Sydney Morning Herald label Turnbull’s centre-right coalition government as “on the brink”, while The Australian opined “PM under a long white cloud”, referencing the Maori name for New Zealand.
Other newspapers chose to ramp up the trans-Tasman rivalry with New Zealanders, who Australians like to characterise as sheep-loving country bumpkins.
“Ewe have got to be joking… it could be haka-la-vista for Barnaby,” headlined Brisbane’s Courier Mail, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun chipping in “All Black for Baa-naby”.
The Adelaide Advertiser asked “Why so sheepish Barnaby?”, while Sydney’s Daily Telegraph dubbed Joyce “Barnaby choice, bro” — a play on the politician’s name and a popular Kiwi phrase.
A tweet from the Northern Territory News harked back to the long list of Kiwi icons claimed by Australia.
“Still shocked about this Barnaby Joyce controversy. We always considered him as Aussie as Russell Crowe, Phar Lap and Split Enz,” it said.