Oz exodus: Kiwis struggling without a lifeline across the ditch

By Michael Dickison, Greg Ansley

In the first of a three-part series Greg Ansley and Michael Dickison investigate how New Zealanders are becoming second class citizens in the 'lucky country'.

Adrienne Heppel of Glasshouse Mountains cares for disadvantaged people and the homeless by opening her heart and home through her Maori Mission in New South Wales. Photo / APN
Adrienne Heppel of Glasshouse Mountains cares for disadvantaged people and the homeless by opening her heart and home through her Maori Mission in New South Wales. Photo / APN

On Queensland's Gold Coast jobless and homeless Kiwis are handed sleeping bags and tents and told to find a spot to pitch camp. Often, this is the best social agencies can do to help.

With no access to the dole or other support, and with high truancy rates as teenagers give up and drop out of school, social agencies have reported rising numbers of New Zealand and Pacific Islander youths trapped by homelessness, teen pregnancies, depression and anti-social behaviour.

In Melbourne's northwest the jobless rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is more than 50 per cent. In western Sydney the rate runs up to 28 per cent, and it's 33 per cent on the Sunshine Coast.

Nationally, youth unemployment is about 24 per cent.

Taoirangi, a New Zealander, has been forced to sleep at the back of Pinaroo Park, on the Sunshine Coast.

"I've been here since 2008. "The kids who hang around can give us a hard time even when we're trying to have a discreet drink and a barbie."

His personal possessions are stuffed in a shopping trolley left at a shelter in the park. He said there were no housing options for him except a seven-year wait for a secure roof.

"If you've got a black name then they don't do nothing for you."

Suicide rates are rising. And many are living on the streets, turning to crime to survive.

Queensland agencies dealing with youth crime and children at risk of abuse or neglect have noted "significant" rises in Maori and Pacific Islander cases. In some areas, such as south Brisbane and Mt Druitt in western Sydney, they account for more than 20 per cent of police caseloads.

For those whose luck turns bad, life turns nasty. They have no access to disability and other payments, and if they lose their jobs can only fall back on charity. In one extreme case cited by New Zealand advocate David Faulkner, a young father who lost his job was referred by the Salvation Army to government agencies for help. Their response was to take his three young children into care.

Even if they have work, finding a home can be hard. In Townsville Pacific Islanders face hurdles erected by the lack of tenancy histories, no Australian ID, blacklisting, and discrimination by real estate agencies.

On the Gold Coast the Wesley Mission said many Kiwis were struggling to meet housing costs, were often jobless or confined to part-time jobs, and often living in overcrowded housing. Family breakdowns and violence were major problems.

Aid agencies including St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army have united to give financial help to keep Kiwis from homelessness.

Vicky Va'aa, a Pacific Islander advocate on the Gold Coast told the two countries' Productivity Commissions the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre was giving food parcels to about 120 New Zealanders a week. The service was now at risk because of Queensland Government budget cuts.

The number of young Kiwis seeking help from the Gold Coast Youth Service had doubled in the past two years: "Support offered can generally only include a food parcel, sleeping bag and a tent."

On the Sunshine Coast, Adrienne Heppel has set up New Zealand House with the Brisbane Anglican Maori Mission. The self-funded facility helps the disabled and the homeless, among others.

"We're just inundated with requests for assistance every which way," Mrs Heppel said. Students were also struggling. "They can't afford rent and they can't afford food" so they had to choose between the two.

Through despair or necessity, expat Kiwi children are dropping out of school at alarming rates. Many are forced to leave at 16, when family aid benefits expire, while others take on shift work to help support their families, affecting their performance.

The politics have changed little from the flow that took Kiwis from automatic rights of permanent residency to a separate class of migrants isolated from safety nets and educational and other opportunities.

As far back as the 1970s immigration officials believed visas should be introduced for Kiwis to control the tide of transtasman migration that began rising in the late 1960s and gathered pace each time the New Zealand economy took a battering.

Media painted Kiwis as bludgers on Australia's generosity, despite evidence to the contrary.

Sympathy for New Zealanders was further undermined by a series of tensions, including violent protests against the use of wide combs by Kiwi shearers and the Anzus split that fuelled Australian perceptions of a cheapskate neighbour hiding behind its expensive military skirts, and a deep, wider sense of betrayal.

The cancellation of two of four planned Anzac frigates added to Australian anger, reflected in former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating's comment that he was "tired of New Zealand taking the scrapings from Australia's plate", and Labor's cancellation without notice of a common transtasman aviation market.

But at the heart of Australian concerns were the rising costs of expat Kiwi welfare payments, the unpredictability of an uncontrolled migrant flow, and the "backdoor" migration of Pacific Islanders and Hong Kong Chinese after gaining NZ citizenship.

Australia had for years also tried to convince New Zealand to align the two countries' immigration policies.

In 1994 Australia introduced Special Category Visas for New Zealanders, classing all subsequent arrivals as temporary residents, albeit with the right to stay indefinitely.

In February 2001 life changed entirely for Kiwi migrants. After its failure to create a common immigration policy, and New Zealand's refusal to reimburse the cost of all social security payments made to Kiwis, Australia introduced its new welfare rules.

This was despite statistics showing expat Kiwis paid A$2.5 billion in tax, against A$1 billion in social security outlays. Australia was reckoned to gain a net A$3000 for each New Zealander living there.

Australia has painted the 2001 changes as part of its social security deal with New Zealand, a false argument repeated by government agencies and even in court hearings.

The joint communique issued at the time, and statements later by former Prime Minister Helen Clark, clearly show that the new rules were a unilateral move by Australia.

Exclusion from benefits on the basis of nationality has been taken to the extreme in Queensland, which has introduced amendments to its anti-discrimination laws blocking legal action by New Zealanders. Australia says the 2001 changes have created equality for all migrants and are " not inconsistent with [its] ... human rights obligations".

Size doesn't seem to matter

New Zealanders and Australians account for about 2 per cent of each other's population, according to the two countries' Productivity Commissions. But similar relative sizes are not reflected in the treatment of transtasman communities.

Australians in New Zealand

* Can apply for all Winz payments including disability assistance and allowances, domestic purposes benefits, accommodation supplement, childcare assistance, health-related benefits, sickness benefit, temporary additional support, unemployment benefit, disaster relief recovery payments.

* Unlike expat Kiwi victims of floods and Cyclone Yasi (initially refused emergency payments but after pressure granted one-off assistance), Australians in Christchurch qualified for the same earthquake assistance as New Zealanders.
* After two years are eligible for tertiary student allowances and can apply for student loans.
* After three years' residence can apply for citizenship.

New Zealanders in Australia
(on non-protected special category visas)

* Are entitled to family payments, including family tax benefit, baby bonus, childcare benefit and parental leave pay, and medical care under MediCare.
* But are excluded from Newstart (unemployment) benefits, parenting payments and youth allowance.
* Kiwis living in Australia continuously for 10 years since February 2001 might be eligible for once-only Newstart and youth allowances for up to six months.
* Are not entitled to Austudy and HELP student loans, whether on protected or non-protected SCVs.
* Are excluded from the new Disability Insurance Scheme, including children of NZ parentage born in Australia.
* Cannot receive disability support pension for non-work-related disabilities developed while living in Australia.
* Excluded from new payments for Australian residents injured by terrorist attacks abroad.
* Have no automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship and are required to compete with other migrants on the basis of required skills.
* Excluded from disability support services in Queensland, which is now amending anti-discrimination laws to allow exclusion of New Zealanders.
* Do not have access to public housing in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales, which also now refuses Kiwis emergency accommodation.
* Have been excluded from student concessionary travel in Victoria, including primary and secondary school pupils and extending to all New Zealanders regardless of date of arrival. This is now subject to an anti-discrimination case.

A three-part Herald series

Today: When the dream turns sour
Tomorrow: Held back by Aussie law
Wednesday: Victories against discrimination

- additional reporting APN

- NZ Herald

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