Kiwis living in Australia are making a bold pitch to win a place in New Zealand’s parliament - and from there lobby for fairer access to social services and permanent residency rights in Australia.
The ultimate aim is to wind back restrictions, first introduced in 2001, that deny New Zealanders living in Australia rights to university loans or the newly created national disability insurance scheme.
But not a right to the dole for out-of-work New Zealanders living in Australia.
A required 500 voters have signed on to register the newly formed Expatriate Party of New Zealand ahead of the country’s September 20 election.
And while the upcoming New Zealand poll is the party’s first target, a future run for the Australian senate is not out of the question.
The party hopes to win backing from the more than 640,000 New Zealanders estimated to presently reside in Australia.
“We all love being over here - a lot of us feel as much Australian as New Zealander,” said Grant Cheesman, an Expat Party founder and chairman of the New Zealand Club of Western Australia.
“However, we are currently prohibited from fully integrating into Australian society as most Kiwis cannot legally become permanent residents of Australia, and if we don’t do something about that now, in 10 years it will be a massive problem for Australia and New Zealand.”
Since the Howard government cut off access to most government social services to citizens from across the Tasman, New Zealanders have complained about growing discrimination in Australia.
New Zealanders are allowed to settle in Australia and must pay local taxes - including the National Disability Insurance Scheme levy - but receive only limited access to Medicare in return.
They are not allowed to vote in elections, and the 2001 changes restrict their ability to qualify for permanent residency and then citizenship.
By contrast, Australians living in New Zealand are allowed social service support and win the right to vote after one year of residency.
A recent survey by Monash University found New Zealanders living in Australia regularly report discrimination and are among the least likely immigrant groups to take up Australian citizenship.
Tim Gassin, chairman of OzKiwi, an online forum with 33,000 supporters, said frustration was building about the treatment of New Zealanders in Australia.
He said voter turn-out of New Zealanders in Australia had historically been low, but was expected to increase.
“People would like to see New Zealand politicians take this up more forcibly with Australia,” Gassin said.
The Expat Party hopes to use its electoral clout to influence the New Zealand government to lobby Australia to change the rules.
Under New Zealand’s electoral system, a party that wins 5 per cent support - or roughly 120,000 votes - will be represented in parliament.
New Zealanders are eligible to vote even if they are living overseas, provided they have returned home in the past three years and will be permitted to vote online for the first time in the coming election.
Cheesman said the Expat Party had realistic aims and mostly hoped to raise its profile in the coming ballot and be a serious contender at the next.
He said the concentration of New Zealanders living in Queensland and Western Australia made a senate run in Australia a future prospect, but any candidate would need to sacrifice their New Zealand citizenship to take up a seat.
- The Age