Editorial: Abetting refugee treatment

New Zealanders are directly affected - hopefully for the better - by a slew of deals struck between Australia's Julia Gillard and our John Key at the weekend. Those of us who cross the Tasman for business or tourism purposes, for example, can look forward to benefiting from joint action to lower what have been exorbitant mobile roaming rates. And Australia will be trialling fast-track automated technology for departures from Australian airports with the aim of achieving "domestic-like" travel between the two countries.

New retirement savings portability arrangements between Australia and New Zealand will begin in July, joint funding will be provided over the next two years to support the development of a potential vaccine for rheumatic fever, Australia will confirm its support for New Zealand's bid for Security Council membership in 2015-16 . . .

Most Kiwis perhaps are indifferent to the United Nations deal, but a decision taken with even less direct impact on our lives is the one that has attracted most media attention and generated the most concern. It's a deal whereby our Prime Minister agreed to take in 150 refugees a year from Australian processing centres.

Ms Gillard made no concessions, however, regarding the 100,000 or so New Zealanders who have emigrated to Australia, where they have no entitlement to welfare services. Kiwis were told we should be grateful we can go to and work in Australia without restrictions under an agreement struck in 2001, when the Aussies withdrew a threat to regulate the flow of people between the two Anzac partners in return for the Clark Government giving away our right to claim welfare benefits in that country.

There can be little doubting that New Zealand has benefited hugely from the Closer Economic Relations Agreement struck 30 years ago. A greater harmonisation of policies has been one of the welcome consequences, although Mr Key has said "we need them more than they need us".

No doubt that is so. But it is troubling if he believes this has obliged him to take in just a few of the refugees who vex the Australian Government. The effect is to help legitimise Canberra's programme for processing those refugees in dubious conditions, a policy that many Australians find inhumane and some regard as shameful.