A national campaign is being prepared in Australia to challenge the exclusion of expatriate New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders from welfare and other Government assistance.
The Melbourne-based advocacy group, Voice of the Pacific, formed last year, has forged links with similar organisations in Sydney and Queensland, and will soon take its case directly to the federal Government.
Voice of the Pacific says the bans are racially motivated, and that New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders are being disproportionately denied access to citizenship and welfare relative to other migrant groups.
"This is a human rights issue," secretary Audrey Dropsey said.
It will urge law changes to open a pathway for transtasman expatriates to gain residency and citizenship after a "reasonable" waiting period, amendments to anti-discrimination legislation to end discrimination based on nationality, and assistance to enable legal challenges to discriminatory laws and policies.
Support for an end to the rules imposed since February 2001 - including barriers to permanent residency, denial of welfare, social housing, education grants and disability assistance - has been growing within Australia.
Education officials, welfare and community groups and some elements of the federal bureaucracy have advocated change.
But a proposal to the Cabinet to allow residency after eight years has foundered, apparently because of opposition from officials concerned about its possible costs.
Although Voice of the Pacific has been helped by Labor MPs, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has remained adamant that the rules will not be relaxed, emphasised by her new national disability insurance scheme.
Expatriates will be required to pay the levy that will fund its implementation, but the NDIS legislation specifically excludes New Zealanders living in Australia on the "non-protected" visas introduced with the 2001 bans.
Although federal laws outlaw discrimination based on country of birth, they allow it on the grounds of nationality, defining post-2001 expatriate New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders as temporary residents regardless of how long they remain in Australia.
State Governments have followed suit, although a series of anti-discrimination lawsuits have been successful and the number of cases now being pursued is growing.
In Queensland, a three-day summit last month of state, local councils and community organisations urged a review of the 2001 rules following violence between Pacific Islanders and Aborigines in Logan, on the Gold Coast.
Educators and welfare groups say the rules are excluding young expatriates from higher education and skills training, and trapping families in unemployment and poverty.
The summit produced a draft plan for a review of the rules, especially access to student loans.
Ms Dropsey said that after more than 10 years it was time for a review, even if the answer was to give access - after a reasonable waiting period - to residency and citizenship for expatriates who had worked and contributed to the community.
She said most New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders found jobs and many brought skills and knowledge that benefited Australia.
Australia would gain by helping to enable their children to gain education, Ms Dropsey said.
Campaign for benefits
*A campaign in Australia is set to challenge the exclusion of expatriate New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders from welfare and other government assistance.
*Voice of the Pacific is a Melbourne-based advocacy group which was formed last year.
*They say the New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately denied access to citizenship and welfare relative to other migrant groups.
*Expatriate New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders are temporary residents regardless of how long they remain in Australia.