Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Andrew Little's Australia Pale Ale immigration solution

Labour leader Andrew Little (right) visited Australia with then MP Phil Goff in 2015 to plead for the case of New Zealanders in Australia. Photo / Nick Jones
Labour leader Andrew Little (right) visited Australia with then MP Phil Goff in 2015 to plead for the case of New Zealanders in Australia. Photo / Nick Jones

Labour leader Andrew Little has finally found the cure for all that ails us in relation to the rights of New Zealanders in Australia.

It is a problem that has vexed successive governments since John Howard clamped down on social security entitlements and citizenship rights of New Zealanders in 2001.

Little's solution does not involve any witch craft- no toe of newt or hair of shrew.

All that is apparently involved are a couple of beers and a sun-baked balcony (or air conditioned room) at Kirribilli House - the Australian Prime Minister's Sydney residence.

Little offered this in response to news Australia was making permanent residents wait for four years to apply for citizenship - up from one year now.

That came just a year after Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a special path to citizenship for about 100,000 of the 305,000 New Zealander who moved to Australia between 2001 and 2016 who earned more than $57,000 a year.

Little described this as a watering down of Turnbull's promise to his mate John Key.

"I'm pretty sure if Bill Shorten and I had a beer at Kirribilli House we'd get it sorted out pretty smartly," he said on Breakfast.

There are two pre-conditions to this solution. First, Little has to win this year's election. Then Shorten has to win the Australian election in 2018/19.

There is some irony here, for one of the mechanisms by which Little hopes to achieve the former is by campaigning on a promise of drastic cuts in immigration.

It is a bit rich when you are cutting your own immigration levels to expect your neighbour to give you an exemption to their cuts.

Meanwhile Australia Labor MPs have called Turnbull out for dog whistling and xenophobia for his proposals aimed at cutting immigration.

Everybody loves a trier, but Little could be disappointed in his expectations of what a future Australian Labor Government might deliver.

It was former Liberal PM John Howard who took away social security rights for New Zealanders in 2001 - as well as an easy path to citizenship. Since then, Key managed to eke more out of the Turnbull government than either he or Helen Clark did out of Australian Labor Party governments led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Nor could Little have taken much encouragement out of Shorten's initial reaction to Turnbull's proposal. The only aspect of Turnbull's reforms that Shorten has so far voiced any support for was the longer period to wait for citizenship - the very same aspect that concerns New Zealanders.

Little's immigration policy is closer to Turnbull's than Shorten's.

By way of achieving his goal, Turnbull has proposed cutting one of the visa categories altogether to free up more jobs for Australians, making people take stricter language and "values" testing and imposing a four-year wait for permanent residents to get citizenship rather than a one year wait. His driving force is "Australian values" - although he is yet to decide what questions will elicit whether hopeful citizens hold sufficient Australian values to pass muster.

Little is yet to set out the specifics of what he will do to achieve his goal of cutting net migration from its record highs of 72,000. He has not said how much he wants to cut.

We know that 72,000 is too high, and Little has been heard to hanker for the good old days when it was around 25,000 - but denied that means he wants to cut it by 50,000. He has settled on saying "tens of thousands".

Little is hoping to get the cuts he needs while keeping intact New Zealand's humanitarian settings - a quota for the Pacific, a lift in the refugee quota and the family reunification policy. Presumably he does not want the international students sector to be too hard hit either.

Little has pitched his plan as one to better align migrants with the skills New Zealand needs rather than taking any old Tom, Dick and Harry.

And it could well be the Toms, Dicks and Harrys who are affected.

Ask any local MP and they will tell you the issue British migrants most often raise with them is immigration - of others.

Despite the tendency of some politicians (hello Winston! and occasionally Little himself) to focus on groups such as Indian chefs and Chinese instead, the British have long been one of the biggest groups to come to New Zealand to work and settle long term.

Oh. And Australians.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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