Editorial: Sub-citizens in Australia

Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014

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OPINION: Young Hudson Glubb is another face of the Kiwi subclass in Australia.

The 19-month-old tot has several medical disorders and struggles for every breath he takes. He's in constant need of intensive care but though he receives some public healthcare it's far from what other Australian children would.

For instance, his parents have to find $160 a week to spend on oxygen to keep him alive.

The reason is that they are among the 300,000 New Zealanders who now make Australia their home, but whose legal status is subverted by perfidious legislation passed in 2001.

They are on the ironically-titled "subclass 444" unprotected visa which means, in effect, that they are taxed like permanent residents but when the chips are down they are afforded the rights only of temporary residents.

Hudson's parents have lived in the Lucky Country six years, and it's their home. It just is. They have paid taxes there and even made compulsory levy contributions to the very disability scheme they cannot access for their younger son, sorely though he needs it.

Those subclass visas were set up by the Howard Government in reaction to public alarm about deadbeat Kiwis draining from, and under-contributing to, the Australian economy.

In truth, the statistical evidence strongly supported the case that the migration was emphatically good for their economy. But this wound up counting for little when the laws were drafted.

To be fair, Australia did have a more legitimate reason to tighten up some of the immigration rules back then as there had been scope for people being denied Australian residency to leapfrog in from New Zealand, after first getting residency, then citizenship, here.

But the Aussies overreached nastily, setting up a shabby, inconsistent system that to this day Kiwi families, or individuals, contemplating a shift to Australia need to bear in mind.

Many don't. That is not to endorse some of the overly sour reactions that sometimes issue from New Zealand, implicitly if not explicitly, that it serves families like the Glubbs right for jumping ship.

The scold is that that they should have done their homework first. Yes, they should. But the ugliness of this system should be challenged from both sides of the Tasman for simple fairness' sake.

It's not just a case of these people needing to forget about access to the dole, or many welfare benefits, or disaster relief benefits. These sub-Aussies can't borrow money through the Higher Education Contributions Scheme to study at varsity.

The argument that families like the Glubbs should simply have become Australian citizens isn't so much simplistic as ignorant, Or fatuous.

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The only option for gaining citizenship is first to become a permanent resident - the very status that is expressly being denied the 444-category Kiwi migrants. So typically, there just isn't a natural pathway to citizenship for them.

And, as in Hudson's case, children born in Australia to two Kiwi parents are not automatically Australian citizens until they have lived there 11 years.

Unfair. The Australian Federal Parliament's human rights committee has raised concerns about the new national disability scheme's exclusion of people in Hudson's situation, but even if this were to be corrected (which is far from given) the wider disparities remain.

What needs to happen is that after a set number of years supporting themselves in Australia, 444 visa holders should be allowed either to apply for citizenship, or at least fully-functioning permanent status.

It's their country, their rules. And as things stand, their disgrace.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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