Reprieve for Kiwis in limbo in Australia

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2012
John Key and Julia Gillard
Fairfax
SEAMLESS MARKET: John Key and Julia Gillard at Treasury Place in Melbourne for a joint meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Cabinets.

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Queensland employers will be able to make criminal checks on Kiwi job applicants more easily under plans that could be extended across Australia and New Zealand.

The move comes as Australia also looks at easing residency requirements for up to 100,000 New Zealanders stuck in limbo after a rule change in 2001.

Officials have been working on the residency proposal for months and it was discussed by Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart, Julia Gillard, over dinner in Melbourne on Saturday night.

But details may not emerge until the Australian Budget in May because it comes with significant costs.

Mr Key flew to Australia with a big contingent of Cabinet ministers who shuttled in and out of bilateral meetings ahead of a joint Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Under pressure from Australia, both governments agreed to step up reciprocal sharing of criminal records, initially in a six-month trial in Queensland.

It follows a high-profile case of a Kiwi who stole millions from his employer, Queensland Health.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said Australian employers could already do criminal checks on New Zealand workers and vice versa but those systems needed to be sped up.

Prospective employees would have to give their permission and privacy laws would be respected.

But she believed it was a good move for all Kiwis wanting to live and work across the Tasman.

"It should be relatively easy to check that you are who you are and you've done what you say you've done and haven't been in prison when you say you haven't."

The move comes as Australia and New Zealand operate an increasingly seamless job market – one of the drivers behind New Zealand's push to extend more rights to an estimated 100,000 Kiwi migrants who have lived and worked across the Tasman for close to a decade but have few rights since a 2001 rule change.

Kiwis can now live and work in Australia on temporary visas but do not get the same welfare support and other assistance extended to New Zealanders who entered the country before 2001.

After the recent Queensland floods and Victorian bushfires, many were initially refused disaster relief, despite living and working in Australia for years.

The Australian Government eventually paid out after pleas from New Zealand.

Mr Key said the Australian Government had mooted "a new pathway to residency" in recognition of the anomaly.

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"It won't fix every situation but it may give them much greater rights and give them that pathway through to citizenship."

It is understood proposals are well advanced and the Australians would put in place a policy that applied not just to the 100,000 Kiwis currently affected, but to future migrants as well.

Though details are scant, it seems likely that those who can prove a contribution to Australia after several years will be able to apply for residency outside the normal immigration rules.

Mr Key advised that there would still be Kiwis who missed out under the proposal and there may also be a stand-down period of several years.

- The Dominion Post

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