Many New Zealanders living in Australia are not on level pegging with Australian citizens. (Photo: 123RF)
02 May 2019
Lucy Bennett – New Zealand Herald
The Australian Labor Party has pledged to champion the rights of 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia.
Polls show the Coalition and ALP neck and neck in the lead-up to the election.
While Australian citizens are going to the polls with the promise of a “fair go” ringing in their ears, the majority of the 650,000 Kiwis who live there are not getting one. Because most can’t vote, they are a low priority for campaigning politicians.
New Zealanders don’t have access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which provides support in cases of significant and permanent disability, even though they pay for it through the Medicare levy.
Most Kiwis in Australia are also ineligible for tertiary education student loans and the majority cannot access social housing and some welfare benefits.
The Howard government stopped granting New Zealanders permanent residence on arrival in 2001.
Those who arrived before 26 February 2001, are permanent residents with access to social security and student loans.
Those who arrived after that date are non-protected Special Category Visa holders. They can live and work in Australia indefinitely but do not have the rights of permanent residents and no simple pathway to citizenship.
The current Government announced a new pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders in 2017, but it involves some stringent conditions including earning at least A$53,900 for five years, passing health checks and a character test.
A Labor campaign spokesperson told the Herald the Liberals had left New Zealand citizens living in Australia in a state of “permanent migration limbo”.
ALP’s National Policy Platform says there is an inequity for New Zealand citizens living in Australia under the terms of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangements (TTTA).
Labor would consider the permanent residency status and potential citizenship arrangements for New Zealanders living in Australia under the terms of the TTTA.
“Only Labor truly values the tremendous contribution New Zealanders in Australia make, both culturally and economically,” the spokesperson said.
Shorten has himself promised to improve the rights of New Zealanders in Australia, saying in a speech to the Lowy Institute last October “no country is a closer friend to Australia than New Zealand, no nation understands us better”.
He said the improved treatment of the hundreds of thousands of long-term New Zealand permanent residents would be on his agenda. He has also flagged giving Kiwis access to student loans for higher education.
Oz Kiwi is a group that represents New Zealanders living in Australia and seeks equitable treatment and access to government services and a smoother path to citizenship.
Chairman Tim Gassin said it would be nice if Australian politicians put their money where their mouths were on Kiwis’ rights in Australia.
“It’s a bit galling, that hypocrisy of saying we’re all family, we’re all brothers. Draping themselves in the flag and saying ‘aren’t we all Anzacs and it’s all great’ while when it comes to policy, doing something that seems quite different.
He called it a thorn in the side of the trans-Tasman relationship.
It creates a constant negative narrative around the relationship in what should be both countries’ closest relationship.”
Gassin said the solution was to sort out the citizenship issue and the others would follow.
“What we’ve found is that you could tick off one and then another problem would open up, as long as you’ve got this unstable anomalous status.
“Our main focus has got to be if you can get some wins on these things that’s great but ultimately it’s that issue – can people get stable status, can they have a clear pathway to citizenship rather than be in this permanent limbo.”
He said the fact that most New Zealanders in Australia could not vote was one of the reasons politicians tended to give their issues a low priority.
“There are many issues in Australia that could do with sorting out. It’s always much easier to get an issue sorted out if the people who’ll benefit from it can vote.”
Gassin hoped that if Labor won government it would stick to the promises it had made.
“We would also like to see the New Zealand Government seizing on the opportunity if there was a change of government in Australia to say ‘well, actually there are longstanding issues we want addressed. This is in your national policy platform so let’s work together and sort this out’.”