Kiwis denied Yasi payments

By Hayden Donnell

Expat New Zealanders hit by Tropical Cyclone Yasi have joined a growing number of disaster victims denied recovery payments by the Australian Government.

The decision to deny Kiwi cyclone victims an Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment has been justified under the same legislation used to stop the payment to thousands caught in the Queensland floods last month.

It categorises all New Zealanders who arrived in Australia after February 26, 2001 as non-protected Visa holders, making them ineligible for many social security payments.

Theresa Crisp, a New Zealander who has been living and working in Townsville for three years, said her home was without power for five days in the aftermath of Cylcone Yasi.

Her family had used up its supply of food and could not afford to restock as much of their savings had gone into preparing a cyclone emergency kit, she said.

Social security agency Centrelink denied them the $1000 recovery payment available to Australians because they had arrived in the country after 2001.

"We were pretty gutted especially after the trauma we had been through with the huge cyclone, along with everyone else here," she said.

"Us Kiwis can't get any help - yet we pay taxes here."

Tropical Cyclone Yasi, which hit on February 3, is estimated to have caused more than $2 billion in damage to property, crops and the mining industry in north Queensland.

Australian victims of the storm were eligible for a disaster recovery payment if they were unable to access their home for at least 24 hours, were stranded at home for at least 24 hours or were without electricity, water, gas, sewerage services or another essential service for at least 48 hours.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully confirmed the payment was not being offered to many New Zealanders who arrived in the country after 2001 due to restrictions in the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Bill.

His staff were talking to the Australian Government about issuing a similar concession to the one made available to many New Zealand victims of the Queensland flood, he said.

They were offered a $1000 "ex-gratia" payment under the same conditions as the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment after lobbying from the New Zealand Government.

"When these matters come to a head we take the matter up as New Zealanders would expect us to do."

Centrelink General Manager Hank Jongen said New Zealand immigrants who arrived in Australia after February 26, 2001, were not entitled to social security payments such as the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment despite living indefinitely in Australia.

They could access various other social security payments, including the Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy, if they met eligibility requirements, he said.

The Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Bill 2001 was signed by the John Howard-led Coalition Government.

One of its intentions was to "remove access to social security assistance to NZ citizens newly arrived in Australia who have made no or very little contribution to government revenues, prior to receiving assistance".

It has also been criticised for denying social security payments to sick and disabled New Zealanders.

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