Expat's crew helps struggling Kiwis
Should Kiwis have the same rights as Aussies?
Poll: An expat from Invercargill has created a charity organisation in Brisbane to help struggling New Zealanders who cannot access social welfare payments in Australia.
Tautoko Crew co-founder Bianca Ledesma said many Kiwis were struggling to keep their homes in Australia since the Australian government rescinded their rights to welfare benefits including unemployment and social housing.
"I actually came across the need for struggling Kiwis on Facebook - I was unaware of the amount of homeless Kiwis," Ms Ledesma said.
The Invercargill woman shifted her family to Brisbane more than two years ago and stumbled across a Facebook page called Kiwilocals, which ran a campaign in Sydney called Feed A Kiwi.
Realising a local need in Brisbane, she set up a Facebook page and within three months the charity became a registered not-for-profit organisation purely supported by public donations.
"I started Tautoko Crew and in a week we had over 1000 people like our Facebook page," she said.
The organisation has delivered more than 40 food baskets and helped some homeless New Zealand families find jobs and housing, she said.
"We want to share the message back home that you have to have a backup plan, not just a dream."
A record 53,676 New Zealanders moved to Australia last year despite unemployment rates steadily increasing. When Kiwis lose their jobs in Australia, they have no safety net in the form of welfare payments, unlike Australian citizens.
Australia's unemployment rate has increased by 0.6 per cent to 5.8 per cent during the past 18 months. New Zealand has an unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent.
Advocacy groups told Fairfax nearly 150,000 Kiwis residing in Australia were considered to be living in "precarious situations".
In contrast, Australians are automatically treated as permanent residents upon arrival in New Zealand and can apply for citizenship after five years.
Australian Welfare Rights Network president Maree O'Halloran said some homeless shelters in Australia reported a high patronage of New Zealand citizens, and the Welfare Rights Centre was working with thousands of New Zealand-born residents. "Social security rules, introduced in 2001, have caused immense hardship for New Zealand citizens living in Australia," she said.
She called on the Australian Government to reconsider its position, saying it would be unreasonable to expect citizens to relocate back to New Zealand. "It should be possible for New Zealand citizens in dire need to access a payment . . . where they have suffered substantial change in circumstances since migrating to Australia."
New Zealanders "down on their luck" can access community services including St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army and Anglicare, Ms O'Halloran said.
Invercargill MP Eric Roy said Prime Minister John Key had discussed the need for equal treatment of citizens on both sides of the Ditch with trans-Tasman officials.
But this week, after meeting Mr Key, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out any changes to legislation for New Zealanders living in Australia.
Mr Roy said a lot of people moved to Australia thinking it was the "land of milk and honey".
"But actually, with the exception of Western Australia, there is higher unemployment, and [there are] more opportunities in New Zealand," Mr Roy said.
A spokesperson from the Department of Human Services in Australia said its role was to deliver payments in line with the legislation set down by Parliament.
FAMILY DIFFICULTY AFTER WORK ACCIDENT
Aroha Tonga and her husband moved to Brisbane with the dream of a better life.
However, after her husband injured his back at work, the Kiwi couple watched their dream evaporate and they struggled to keep their home.
"My husband and I are in a bit of strife. We could be homeless in two weeks," Ms Tonga said.
"My husband had an accident on a coal-seam gas rig. He had nine months off work and was on work cover."
Aftertests, the family discovered he would need a disc replacement and fusion of the lumbar spine.
Work cover ceased his payments not long after and her husband applied for the disability benefit but was denied access because he was considered a temporary resident, she said.
"We have two children. I have a casual job, but have been applying for job after job. We are looking at maybe moving to a caravan park till my husband's compensation comes through."
The Tautoko Crew charity organisation heard about the family's struggle and had helped by providing food packages, Ms Tonga said.
The organisation was to hold a fundraiser today.
"No words can describe how I feel right now, but a big thanks to everyone from the Tautoko Crew."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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