Opinion – the two countries I love have never felt further apart

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at a press conference in July 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)

Opinion

An excellent article by Kiwi expat Sue Green illustrating the situation for many Kiwis who have made a life for themselves in Australia.

Whilst acknowledging that not everyone will be eligible, Oz Kiwi strongly recommends New Zealanders living in Australia apply for Australian citizenship.


The two countries I love have never felt further apart

16 July 2020

By Sue Green – Sydney Morning Herald

In the almost four decades since I decamped from Wellington to Melbourne, I have lived between the two countries. While I’ve worked mostly in Australia, some of my closest friends and favourite places are across the Tasman.

Asked whether I’m an Australian or a New Zealander, I respond: both.

Back in the 1980s, that answer was unpopular on either side of the ditch. There was an expectation that I should choose. “But who do you support in the cricket?” I was asked.

More recently, in this country built on migration and with dual passports commonplace, it’s been less an issue. The neighbours have drawn closer in many ways, including economically. In Australia, more than 600,000 Kiwis, many (I would guess most) still regarding themselves as New Zealanders, pay taxes and make an enormous contribution to Australian life.

Trans-Tasman flights, once a big event (I remember lobster in economy on my first Air New Zealand flight to Melbourne) are akin to hopping on a bus.

Now, though, Melbourne is in lockdown while my friends in New Zealand have resumed normal life. Borders are closed, but social media showcases their holiday pics and nights on the town. Arts companies such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Royal New Zealand Ballet have resumed their 2020 seasons, a favourite singer has announced a gig at the Wellington Opera House, my cousin says you can’t move in the shops in his town.

My two countries have never felt further apart. With Melbourne’s Covid-19 cases more than 200 each day and New Zealand’s only active cases in quarantine, life here is in stark contrast to daily life in my other city.

In March, as the shutters came down, I was booked for an extended visit to Wellington. Now, it’s impossible to know when I will see it again. Extending New Zealand’s “bubble” to Australia is unlikely to include Victoria in the foreseeable future.

Strangers post Instagram shots of themselves at “my” window table in my favourite beachside cafe. I’m envious; there are days when I wish I was there.

But here in Australia, where I also have close friends, my sister, my house and cat, I’m one of the lucky ones. Because, most importantly, I have an Australian passport and a pre-2001 arrival date. That was the year New Zealanders became ineligible for Australian social security benefits and unable to apply for citizenship without first becoming permanent residents.

New Zealand is more generous to Australians – although the numbers are much smaller – and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has raised this numerous times with the federal government.

For many New Zealanders, such as a friend’s son who lost a senior hospitality role overnight, the pandemic brought immediate hardship. He was left with no job, no money for food or rent and no unemployment benefits or JobKeeper.

It’s a stark contrast to New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters’ March statement: “That’s almost an unspoken request in the same way we’ll look after Australians – and we will do – in this country.”

The Federal government extended JobKeeper to Kiwis, following representations from Ardern, but post-February 2001 arrivals still have no eligibility for unemployment benefits. Also, as for Australians, many casuals, particularly in hospitality, miss out.

Some Australians would undoubtedly say these New Zealanders should go “home” – and Peters invited them. Many have returned; by March 31, overseas arrivals had pushed New Zealand’s population above 5 million. As in Australia, the government is working with airlines to cap arrivals and quarantine numbers. Air New Zealand reportedly has no Wellington flights available from Australian cities until September.

But for one group, a flight is being laid on. Australia’s controversial deportation of New Zealanders who have served prison sentences of a year or more, regardless of how long they have been here (in some cases decades, even most of their lives), has just resumed after a pandemic pause. The NZ government is vehemently opposed to such deportations, Ardern raising them publicly with the Prime Minister at their February press conference in Sydney.

With 30 Kiwis being deported this week and taken to a state-run isolation facility, NZ Health Minister Chris Hipkins told Radio New Zealand: “We’re receiving them because we’re obliged to receive them but it would be wrong to say we’re happy about it.”

So for many Kiwis in Australia, where is home? Some, like many deportees, have been here for decades, have friends, family and community links here, and own property. Like me, they have ties on both sides of the Tasman. But while we may lead trans-Tasman lives, switching countries is not simply packing a suitcase.

This unequal treatment of each other’s citizens is a sore point for New Zealanders, particularly those living here. That’s even more so as the pandemic bites; some Kiwis describe themselves as “falling through the cracks” or “without a safety net”.

Much is made of the neighbourliness of Australia and New Zealand, the two described as friends. But friends support each other, do the right thing. With those two passports, I have a safety net, but so many Kiwis here don’t.

Before JobKeeper was extended, Radio New Zealand estimated there were 300,000 here without benefits. So on 23 July, when you deliver your economic statement and further support measures, please, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, remember the neighbours.


Sue Green is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.


 

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