It is hard to escape the sense that Australia is in the mood to do as pleases regarding its relationship with New Zealand.

In the last month, Malcolm Turnbull's Government has twice announced policy changes which have created difficulties for New Zealanders in Australia.

On neither occasion did anyone in Turnbull's administration see fit to consult with Wellington before showing its hand, which suggests the special relationship between the neighbours is not as significant nor as neighbourly as New Zealand might have assumed.

Two weeks ago Australia altered its citizenship rules in a way which alarmed New Zealanders who have settled across the ditch.


Last Friday, more than a week after the initial announcement, Turnbull reassured Prime Minister Bill English that New Zealanders who qualified for a special pathway to Australian citizenship would not be disadvantaged by the new rules.

But Turnbull did not extend concessions to New Zealanders who arrived in Australia after February 2016 and who now face a tougher course to citizenship.

The pathway was a deal agreed by Turnbull and John Key, English's predecessor. Turnbull and Key enjoyed a relationship which is not yet visible in the chemistry between English and the Australian Prime Minister.

If they were closer, then it is not unreasonable to imagine that Turnbull might have mentioned to English when they talked just a few days ago that another bombshell was in the pipeline affecting New Zealanders studying at Australian universities.

The tertiary reforms which take effect next year will exclude New Zealanders from subsidised access to courses, making the cost of study significantly higher. A group which lobbies for New Zealanders in Australia estimated that fees could rise by as much as 500 per cent, with the annual cost of studying for an arts degree at a top university soaring from around $6,300 to $24,400.

For the first time though, New Zealand students would be eligible for student loans, which are available to Australians studying here after a three year wait. Further, some 20,000 New Zealanders already enrolled in courses would not be affected.

English was unhappy about being blindsided by the new arrangements, intended to cut Government debt. His language was unexpectedly cranky, but understandable given that he might have expected a heads-up from our closest political ally.

He complained that New Zealand needed to know where Australia was headed with its tertiary policy, rather than having to deal with statements from left-field.

Freshly-appointed Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee, on his first mission in his new role, is tasked with expressing New Zealand's unhappiness with the changes, given that they have the potential to impact on thousands of Kiwis who live and work in Australia.

Canberra is perfectly entitled to make decisions in Australia's interests without picking up the phone to the Beehive. And given that the Australian tertiary reforms were outlined in a options paper issued 12 months ago, English might also get Brownlee to rattle the cage at the well-staffed New Zealand embassy in Canberra, who seem to have left the Prime Minister exposed.

The lines across the Tasman seem crossed at present. It is the interests of both countries they get restored.