Labour leader Andrew Little speaks to Kiwi expats at a meeting in Sydney.
Melissa Malcolm moved to Sydney with her children three and a half years ago, following the Christchurch earthquakes.
When Kiwi woman Mel Malcolm moved to Sydney with her two daughters, she thought she was living the dream – but after a stress-induced breakdown, trying to get support from the Australian government was a nightmare.
Malcolm was among a crowd of Kiwis living in Australia who spoke about their lack of rights at a meeting on Wednesday night organised by the OzKiwi advocacy group.
Labour leader Andrew Little was there to hear their concerns, after earlier speaking to MPs and two parliamentary committees in Canberra about the issue.
In 2001, the Australian government removed New Zealanders’ rights to permanent residency, instead granting them special visas which made it more difficult to gain citizenship and denied them access to a range of benefits they could previously apply for.
Malcolm, a personal development coach and former teacher, is among those caught up by the changes.
She moved to Sydney with her children three and a half years ago, following the Christchurch earthquakes.
Taxing Kiwis for Australian government services that cannot use is clearly unfair, Labour MP Phil Goff says.
“We came here and thought we’d have the Sydney dream…but it’s been a rollercoaster ride.”
After doing well for a year and a half, Malcolm had a stress-related breakdown and was diagnosed as bipolar, but her visa status meant she struggled to get support.
“Thankfully within Sydney there’s a lot of charity organisations so I pretty much survived through charity, because rent’s very high and Centrelink [social welfare] would not give me any support at home.”
After temporarily sending her daughters home to family while she got back on her feet and resumed working, Malcolm then had problems finding temporary accommodation support when she had to move at short notice.
“I just didn’t have the funds to stay in a hotel and I’ve just got no family here…I’d secured a new place, paid for the bond for the new place I was going in, I just said is it possible to have place to stay in for two weeks?”
Stressed to to the Max
She only received last-minute support after planning a camp-out to raise awareness about her issues.
“I was pretty much three days off being homeless so I was stressed to the max as you could imagine.”
Malcolm said she would like to become an Australian citizen, but the cost of the application process was an issue.
“Being a single mum and trying to save three to five grand to do it is quite difficult.”
She said better rights for Kiwis in Australia were “not necessarily about citizenship”, but giving them equal rights to temporary support when they were in difficult situations.
“With me, when I had my breakdown I couldn’t access a lot of doctors because I’m not in Centrelink and it was only through my determination and knowing that it is better opportunities here for the children studywise and workwise for the future that I pushed for it.”
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Another Kiwi woman with a New Zealand-born daughter and two Australian-born sons, who did not want to be named, said she had been battling in the Australian family courts for more than three years after separating from her partner.
“My partner won’t let me go home and I’ve recently been made redundant, so I have no income other than child support which doesn’t cover rent.”
The woman said there was no help available for her, as she could not receive any crisis or emergency payments, while she could not return to New Zealand with her children due to Hague Convention rules.
“You end up between a rock and a hard place – I’ve essentially got a three-year-old and a four-year-old who could be under the bridge next week.”
She could not be housed at a women’s refuge because of her residency status, while the New Zealand government was unable to help.
“Work and Income can’t help, Centrelink can’t help, New Zealand government can’t help, Australian government can’t help, you’ve got a three-year-old and a four-year-old who are going to starve.”
Injustices Likely to Grow
Labour MP Phil Goff, who addressed the crowd, said accusations by Prime Minister John Key that Little’s visit could undermine progress behind the scenes were misplaced.
“I think that quiet diplomacy quite often is bulls**t…if you’re so diplomatic they’re never getting the message, you’re wasting your breath.”
Taxing Kiwis for services they could not use, such as the national disability insurance scheme, was clearly unfair, Goff said.
“What that…means is we want to take the taxation from the Kiwis, we want to use their labour which is really productive…but then we don’t want to give the money back.”
Goff said the injustices facing New Zealanders in Australia were likely to grow the longer they stayed in the country.
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