C'mon Aussies, give us a fair go

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, seen here with Prime Minister John Key, might think Kiwis and Aussies are best ...
TRACY WATKINS / FAIRFAX NZ

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, seen here with Prime Minister John Key, might think Kiwis and Aussies are best mates, but many New Zealanders get unfair treatment across the Tasman.

OPINION Australians like to tell us they're our best mates.  Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said so just this week.  Well, sometimes, to be frank, it just doesn't feel like that.  Kiwis living long-term in Australia aren't getting a fair go.

It's been a problem for a long time.  Back in 2000, Australian Prime Minister John Howard told the New Zealand Government that the price of free movement of people across the Tasman was that New Zealand should pick up any welfare payments made to Kiwis living in Australia.  Hang on a minute, we said to him, Kiwis working in Australia are usually skilled, they have been raised and educated at our expense and you are getting the benefit of their work.  They work longer hours than Australians, according to that country's statistics and pay more tax.  In fact, according to the New Zealand Treasury estimates made at the time, they paid more than $1.5 billion in tax to Australia each year. 

We challenged John Howard and said there was no justification for us meeting welfare costs when the tax was being paid to his government.  We couldn't reach agreement, except on superannuation, and it was left to each Government to make its own decisions.

Australians in New Zealand of course have continued to enjoy full residence rights.  They can vote after one year, are eligible for Work & Income support after two and can apply for citizenship after five.  Australia doesn't reciprocate.  Kiwis become 'Special Category Visa Holders', it's difficult and expensive for them to become an Australian citizen and Australian Immigration estimates that 60% of the visa holders wouldn't qualify.  New Zealanders don't have the right to vote if they settled in Australia after 2001.  They don't have the right to welfare support such as sickness, unemployment or single parent benefits.  This applies even if they have lived and paid taxes there for years and their need for support has arisen from circumstances outside their control.

To add insult to injury, Australia recently brought in a National Disability Insurance Scheme.  Under that policy all Kiwis working in Australia are levied 0.5 per cent of their income but are then denied support from it if they suffer a disability.  How do you justify that?  Kids born in Australia to Kiwi parents aren't Australian citizens although they can apply for citizenship from age 10.  Kids raised thinking of themselves as Australians are denied loans for tertiary study.  This not only hurts the young people wanting to acquire skills, it damages the Australian economy, too.

There is now a new dimension to all this.  Even people raised from childhood in Australia who have known no other home, if they have been sentenced for criminal offences accumulating to more than a year in prison, including suspended sentences, are likely to be deported.  First of all though they are kept in a detention centre, some on Christmas Island, for months without access to family or lawyers before being shipped 'back' to a country they don't know because their parents took them from it 30 or 40 years previously. 

Even worse are cases I've recently taken up with New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, involving Australian-born children whose mothers were New Zealand citizens by descent (from their parents who were citizens), rather than by birth.  Their mothers were brought up in New Zealand and then moved to Australia.  By law the Australian-born children aren't New Zealand citizens and are facing deportation to Samoa, a country they don't know.

These things aren't fair.  They are inhumane and Australia needs to acknowledge this and change its policy. 

In November I am travelling to Canberra with Andrew Little to make this case before two Australian Parliamentary Select Committees and to meet with Australian MPs and Ministers.  All we are asking for is a fair go for Kiwis living in Australia.  Surely that's not too much to ask of a mate!

Judith Collins responds

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Free travel between our two countries has worked well for Australians and Kiwis in the past. Traditionally, way more Kiwis have moved to Australia to take advantage of higher wages and lower cost of living, than the other way around. Many were so comfortable in their Kiwi/Aussieness that they didn't bother to give up their New Zealand citizenship to become Aussies when they had the chance.

But, things have changed. Today, there are some big differences in laws affecting migrants. The Aussies have cast their net very wide, and many innocent Kiwis have become bycatch. And Kiwis have never been able to vote in Australia so they're a convenient whipping boy. Kick a Kiwi, and there's no downside for Aussie politicians. Perhaps they really are our family. After all, as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can't chose your family.

Sure, some Kiwis are facing deportation due to criminal offending. Hey, let's share the blame. They might have been born in New Zealand but you Aussies brought them up!

 - Sunday Star Times

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