Editorial: Expats across Ditch get fair enough deal

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All New Zealanders in Australia can claim family tax credits and child care benefits. Photo / Thinkstock
All New Zealanders in Australia can claim family tax credits and child care benefits. Photo / Thinkstock

On the day that New Zealand is, or should be, most conscious of its national pride, it seems timely to suggest we should stop pleading for instant access to Australian social welfare. Every time the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand hold a transtasman "summit", as it were, our representative tries to improve the welfare rights for New Zealanders over there on temporary visas.

John Key put the case again last weekend when he met Julia Gillard. He appeared to make no more progress than those before him.

Is this request really fair, or necessary? New Zealanders do not look kindly on the idea that migrants may come here and immediately go on a benefit.

New Zealanders have enjoyed free entry to Australia to travel or live and work since time immemorial. Those rights have been formalised under the closer economic relationship and citizens of each country can work in the other at will.

But in 2001 the Howard Government restricted the rights of workers without permanent residency to a range of welfare and training benefits. It was responding, in part, to that great Australian myth, the Bondi Bludger.

New Zealanders know it is a myth. They can point to statistics showing New Zealanders in Australia have a low rate of unemployment and high rates of pay.

But it does not help slay the myth to have our Prime Ministers constantly badgering their Australian counterparts for an end to welfare discrimination.

All New Zealanders in Australia can claim family tax credits and child care benefits. They must stay two years to be eligible for health cards for low-income-earners and senior citizens. And they must live in Australia continuously for 10 years to receive the dole or sickness or disability benefits for six months, during which time they can get state help to find work.

The 10-year rule seems reasonable. Somebody who crosses the Tasman for work and loses the job within 10 years is not too far from home to be reasonably expected to return if he cannot find other employment.

After 10 years, though, the holder of an open-ended "temporary" permit is likely to be well-established in the other country, probably with family there, and will have been paying tax to Australia for that long. It is right to treat that person as a permanent resident with welfare entitlements.

New Zealanders without full citizenship rights in Australia have found themselves denied disaster relief after bushfires in Victoria and floods in Queensland, but the Australian Government quickly extended the relief to them when made aware of their plight. It is hard to make a broader argument of injustice on that experience.

New Zealanders living permanently in Australia are eligible for free hospital treatment and subsidised medical care and pharmaceuticals regardless of their immigration status. They have to provide evidence of permanent residence such as a household bill or an employment contract.

Again, it is hard to complain. New Zealanders are being asked for evidence of citizenship by their own hospitals these days.

We hear a great deal about the higher incomes in Australia and the numbers of New Zealanders migrating there. It would be too easy for this country to be seen, and to see itself, as the poor relation of CER.

New Zealand's circumstances are different. We have environmental blessings Australia lacks and a Treaty-based heritage we celebrate today.

They may seem mixed blessings to New Zealanders who have left for higher incomes. Good luck to them. But they do themselves and their native country no favours if they want instant welfare access. They merely feed that Bondi myth.

- NZ Herald

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