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Editorial: NZ must keep battling for rights in Oz

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Kiwi-born Aussies deserve help in fight for fairer deal.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZPA
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZPA

The Prime Minister appears to have made little progress at his meeting with Australia's counterpart at Queenstown this weekend on the inequities facing Australians of New Zealand heritage. It is time we referred to them as "Australians", not "New Zealanders in Australia" even though they have not been granted Australian citizenship or even permanent residency.

They have been working there, some for most of their working lives, thanks to to their rights under the Closer Economic Relations agreement - 30 years old this year. Many have Australian-born children who are now entering tertiary education and they are denied the student loans available to other Australians.

Prime Minister Gillard made it clear as soon as she arrived at Queenstown that her Government is not prepared to improve the position of expatriate Kiwis. She said the special visa category for New Zealand, introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, included unrestricted working rights that were not available to nationals from any other country.

The problem is that Australian social policy seems unable to distinguish between recent arrivals and those who have been there so long - working, paying taxes and raising children - that they have become Australians in every way except for official recognition. When they ask for equal rights they do so in an Australian accent.

It is easy to understand the reluctance of Australian Governments to grant automatic welfare entitlements to New Zealanders arriving to look for work. The lure of Australian salaries is legendary and we can also be a "back door" to Australia for migrants from other places.

Australia has much greater pressure on its borders than New Zealand does, and John Key rightly agreed at the weekend to accept a larger number of Australian asylum-seekers within our annual quota of refugees. He is right, too, to resist any call for reciprocal restrictions on benefits available to Australian expatriates here.

But it should not be difficult for the Australian Government to distinguish between temporary residents and those who have put down roots in Australia and intend to stay for life.

It would be reasonable to require some years of residence and tax-paying employment before they and their families qualify for parental payments, youth allowances, student loans, disability support services or the dole if work becomes hard to find.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, Phil Goff, suggests five years would be reasonable, 10 might be fairer to Australia. A family that has been settled there for 10 years will be well established and children will have known no other home.

Better still, their 10 years of residence, employment and taxation could be a qualification for citizenship or at least permanent residency status which carries the same entitlements. As the rules stand, they do not qualify for that immigration status unless their skills are on the list Australia seeks. A decade of employment could be similarly valued.

Without a vote in their adopted country, New Zealand-born Australians and their growing children depend on the New Zealand Government to lobby Canberra for their access to benefits. It is a task that risks reinforcing the idea that Kiwis cross the Tasman to bludge on Australian benefits. In fact their unemployment rate is low and their incomes above average.

They are productive, tax-paying Australians and, strictly speaking, not New Zealand's concern. But this country must continue to do what it can to get them a fairer deal.

- NZ Herald

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