It is fast becoming a divide between two countries that have traditionally been very close and yet for the vast majority of Australians and New Zealanders it’s not an issue on the radar in the same way jobs, the economy and social issues such as indigenous recognition and gay marriage are. In fact, you do hear anecdotal stories that, for many years, have been told within kiwi communities and households of those living in Australia. What is it? well, put simply, it is the difference between what Australian’s have access to if living in New Zealand and what New Zealanders have access to while living in Australia.
In 2001 the law in Australia changed which led to a change in the rights of New Zealand visa holders resident in Australia. “People who arrive in Australia on a New Zealand passport are generally issued an SCV on arrival. New Zealand citizens who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001 are generally non-protected SCV holders. Therefore they do not meet the definition of Australian resident above.” Is the definition that is given by the Australian Government but what is not recognised is that there are now two classes of New Zealanders living in Australia. Those who arrived prior to 2001 are able to access a range of services and those who arrived after are not. For example, access to welfare payments, government grants for business start-up, first home ownership, childcare subsidies and more.
To put more perspective around the history of what has happened and where to from here we went back to the archives to an article that Associate Professor Grant Duncan wrote back in 2013 and that still resonates today. What we really want to ask you is what you think? Why is there such an in-balance and if you could resolve the issue what would you do? This is what Professor Duncan had to say:
But exactly one century after federation - and even with the travel-time between the two drastically reduced - Australia and New Zealand took a great leap backwards in their relationship. In 2001, the Howard and Clark governments failed to agree on harmonising immigration policies and balancing up the fiscal costs of social security for cross-Tasman migrants. The consequences of this joint political failure are now falling on the shoulders of those New Zealanders who have migrated to work in Australia since that year.
New Zealand citizens arriving in Australia are normally granted a temporary Special Category Visa (SCV) that allows them to stay and study or work indefinitely. Yet it is not a permanent visa. New Zealanders are therefore subject to the same conditions as other foreigners if they wish to apply for permanent residence and Australian citizenship.
New Zealand citizens on the SCV can work and pay taxes in Australia. However, they cannot vote in Australian government elections, access student loans, join the Australian Defence Force, or obtain ongoing work for the Australian government. Above all, these working New Zealanders who arrived since 2001 are not eligible for most social security entitlements, including income support.
The lack of access to student loans creates a catch-22 for the young, as it’s harder to qualify for permanent residence if they lack tertiary-level qualifications. And New Zealanders whose livelihoods have been damaged by the floods in Queensland, for example - or who give birth to a disabled child while in Australia - may find that neither they nor their children are entitled to the same social security support that Australians expect or that they could have received in New Zealand.
Some have felt forced to test the issues in court. Others who have lost jobs argue that refugees and asylum seekers get a better deal in Australia than New Zealand workers do.
Now, the same Australian government fact-sheet that provides information about the SCV also points out that “New Zealand citizens have a high labour-force participation rate (78.2% at July 2012) compared with those born in Australia (68%)”. The unemployment rate of New Zealanders in Australia is slightly lower.
This suggests that Australia is the net economic beneficiary of its intake of New Zealand citizens. Australia is gaining skilled and employable people who contribute to the economy and pay taxes, and yet who pose relatively little fiscal risk to the social security budget. New Zealanders contribute more than they take, and they adapt well to the cultural and economic environment of Australia.
To be fair, Kiwi immigrants are benefiting too from participation in Australia’s stronger, higher-income economy. But, on the ancient principle of “no taxation without representation”, it is unfair that - as taxpayers in Australia - they have no right to vote on the government they pay for, and no political clout to influence Australian social policy.
Both countries have a strong history of social rights. These rights are often justified on the grounds of a “social contract” by which workers accepted higher taxation on the promise that the state would protect them in times of genuine need. Kiwis taxpayers in Australia, however, suffer deliberate social exclusion.
In reply, it could be argued that Kiwi families who fall on hard times can always fly home to get their social security rights over there “where they belong”. And there has been a take-it-or-leave-it attitude from some politicians.
One proposal is to make permanent residence more open for those New Zealanders who have already settled in Australia, and to impose a tougher policy on the numbers of new Kiwi immigrants. For the time being anyway, the economy seems to be taking care of that, stemming the tide of New Zealand citizens moving to Australia.
A joint report of the Productivity Commissions of Australia and New Zealand in 2012 made numerous recommendations for strengthening trans-Tasman economic relations. This included recommending that the Australian government address the issues facing SCV holders living long-term in Australia, such as welfare, voting rights, and pathways to permanent residency.
The issue could be up for discussion between Tony Abbott and his New Zealand counterpart John Key when they meet this week. But nothing concrete is likely to emerge from that.
While most Kiwis are doing well, we hear anecdotal evidence about social problems associated with policies that discriminate against them. These include homelessness and youth unemployment.
Although most New Zealanders are probably happy and productive in Australia, they are regarded as “guest workers”. This discrimination detracts from Australia’s reputation for human rights. The New Zealand diaspora makes Australia a richer country economically, but Australia is failing to make it a fair deal.
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