NZ pair upset at flood cash 'racism'

By Hayden Donnell

A Kiwi couple caught up in the Queensland floods say they are disgusted at being denied Government assistance because they are from New Zealand.

Aaron and Kasey House have been living in Australia for nearly six years and two of their three children were born there.

They were trapped in their home at Goodna between Ipswich and Brisbane as flood waters rose last week.

Though their house was not flooded, they have not been able to return to work until this week and neither has accumulated annual leave at their new jobs.

But Mr House says when they applied to Government support agency Centrelink for an Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment, they were turned down because they are "not Australian".

His Australian next door neighbours were granted the payment.

"I was disgusted," he says. "I have never heard anything so racist in all my life to be told 'Yes you went through the same disaster as us, yes you live over here, but we are not going to help you because of where you were born'.

"We've got a couple of kids that were born in this country. I thought the Government would at least consider them."

Toby Turner, a New Zealand hydrologist and engineer living in Brisbane, says he had the same experience applying for the disaster relief payment.

Flood damage to lower floors is expected to keep him out of his third-floor riverside apartment for another three weeks.

He is staying with a friend, who has had to delay getting a new flatmate into his house, while paying $200 rent a week for his inaccessible apartment.

Despite that, Centrelink told him he is ineligible for disaster relief because he is a New Zealand citizen, he says.

"It will end up costing my friend over $1,000 in lost rent, and I am still paying $200 a week rent for the room I can't stay in.

"I pay taxes here, I've lived here for three years.

"Australian [permanent residents] in the exact same situation as me are compensated. I'm at a loss, it's costing me a fortune."

Centrelink General Manager Hank Jongen says New Zealand immigrants such as Mr and Mrs House, who arrived in Australia after February 26, 2001, are issued a 'non-protected' Visa.

They are not entitled to social security payments such as the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment despite living indefinitely in Australia, he says.

"Non-Protected Special Category Visa holders are not Australian Residents for Social Security purposes, however, they can qualify for Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy (DIRS) if they meet eligibility requirements. They are also entitled to Family Assistance Payments and some concession cards."

Kiwis who have been living in Australia since before February 2001 or who lived there for a year in the two years prior to that date qualify for protected Visa status, allowing them to claim social security.

The House family may qualify for more benefits by applying for permanent resident status and serving the two year resident waiting period, says Mr Jongen.

Mr House said his family had inquired about the income recovery subsidy but as he and his wife were only off work for one week they were only entitled to a one-off payment of $270.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment gives $1000 to each adult and $400 to each child affected by the floods in Queensland.

It is intended to go toward to paying bills, restocking food that had gone to waste and recovering lost wages

Mr House says being denied that money means his family will have to dip into savings they had put aside for a house to take care of their children.

"It's not cheap to get daycare. It's $500 a week. We still had to pay that even though the kids weren't there. We're not going to be able to pay any bills until we get paid again.

"Kasey was in tears when they told us we weren't getting that money. It definitely makes us feel like second class citizens."

Labour leader Phil Goff said the confusion regarding what New Zealanders affected by the floods were entitled to had to be resolved quickly.

"Kiwis working in Australia who have lost their homes and their jobs because of this natural disaster and through no fault of their own need help now," Mr Goff said.

"John Key must urgently take this issue up with the Australian Government."

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