Transtasman job seekers face closer crime checks

By Greg Ansley

The present system allows Kiwis and Aussies to enter if they have not been sentenced to a year or more in jail. Photo / Thinkstock
The present system allows Kiwis and Aussies to enter if they have not been sentenced to a year or more in jail. Photo / Thinkstock

A trial to boost access to criminal records of people crossing the Tasman to work will be launched this year in Queensland.

Officials hope the six-month trial will improve disclosure of convictions of people wanting jobs in both New Zealand and Australia.

The countries have been working on better information-sharing since 2009, but the issue was yesterday pushed higher up the transtasman agenda with the announcement of the trial by Prime Ministers John Key and Julia Gillard.

This followed meetings between the two leaders and ministers in Melbourne that also touched on moves to improve the rights of New Zealanders cut off from welfare and other support by residency rules tightened in 2001.

But while boosting the two-way flow of information, Justice Minister Judith Collins said neither Government wanted to put more hurdles in the way of New Zealanders and Australians seeking work in each other's countries.

"We have a very porous border between New Zealand and Australia and we think that works very well, and we'd like to continue it."

Complicated by privacy and other legal issues, present systems allow people with records to avoid background checks in job applications, and to slip through immigration controls by lying on entry documents.

New Zealanders and Australians can enter each other's countries so long as they have not been sentenced to a year or more in jail, but can avoid this restriction by ticking entry cards declaring they have no record.

Employers can check for criminal records only with the consent of prospective employees.

The issue flared when expatriate New Zealander Joel Hohepa Morehu-Barlow was charged with stealing more than A$16 million ($19.77 million) from Queensland Health.

Morehu-Barlow, 36, who faces further charges of fraud, drug possession and falsification of documents, was hired in 2005 despite a criminal record in New Zealand, including the theft of $55,000 from the tax office.

His arrest prompted investigations that have shown New Zealanders have slipped into Australia despite convictions for such serious offences as kidnapping, rape, manslaughter and robbery.

Ms Gillard said that with the development of a transtasman labour market it made sense to launch a study into improving disclosure.

Officials will also be told to "accelerate" work on sharing information for border controls and law enforcement.

While the trial will focus initially on Australian concerns, Ms Collins said businesses in New Zealand had indicated that they wanted a more streamlined system, and both Governments wanted reciprocal access.

Australia is also investigating the problems facing New Zealanders who arrived there after residency rules changed in 2001, catching as many as 100,000 in a limbo in which they can live and work on temporary visas but are excluded from welfare and other support systems.

Ms Gillard said it was a long-standing issue but gave no indication of Australia's plans.

Mr Key said before yesterday's meeting that Australia was working on a new pathway to permanent residency. "It will not fix every situation, but it will provide much better rights and provide a pathway to residency and citizenship."

CONVICTIONS DISCLOSURE

* A trial to try to improve disclosure of convictions of people wanting jobs in both New Zealand and Australia will begin this year.
* It will start this year in Queensland and run for six months.
* New Zealanders and Australians can enter each other's country so long as they have not been sentenced to a year or more in jail.
* People with records can avoid background checks in job applications, and slip through immigration controls by lying on entry documents.
* Employers can only check for criminal records with the consent of prospective employees.

- NZ Herald

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