Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Australia now a 'frightening, uncertain' place for Kiwis

New Zealander Matilda Boyce, 18, graduated from high school in Mandurah, Australia. Photo / Supplied
New Zealander Matilda Boyce, 18, graduated from high school in Mandurah, Australia. Photo / Supplied

A family who moved to Australia because of its economic opportunities and quality of life say the country has become "frightening" amidst fears the next step could see Kiwi kids charged thousands to attend state schools.

Deidre Robb and Guy Boyce have spoken to the Herald as immigration researchers and warn Kiwi expats could soon be charged thousands of dollars to send their children to primary and secondary school.

Robb and Boyce left Christchurch for Mandurah, near Perth, in 2010 because there were more jobs for people who specialised in the arts.

Seven years on, they say they are likely to be forced to return to New Zealand because of proposed hikes to university fees, which affect all students but are higher for NZ citizens.

The changes come just weeks after the Australian Government made it harder to get citizenship.

"It's just one thing after another," Robb said. "They do not want us here. They want us gone. And it's working."

"I would not be the slightest bit surprised if next week they said they'd gone off the special category visa, or the week after they say your super contribution, that's going as well."

Eldest daughter Matilda Boyce, 18, was dux of her school last year, and is now studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Australia. Her fees of A$9000 ($9700) will likely double next year.

"I just feel like I'm not really valued or wanted in this country," she said.

"I would like to go back to New Zealand some day, but on my own terms, rather than coming back because of new laws."

Her younger brother Harvey, 17, is in his last year of high school and wants to begin studying next year but will also face higher fees. They will get access to student loans for the first time, but Robb said she did not want them saddled with up to A$100,000 in debt.

Although the full affect of the proposed educations cuts are still to be confirmed, Robb was resigned to leaving Australia.

"I am not willing to stay in a country any more that is pursuing these 'go back to where you came from' policies.

"It's a frightening place and it's getting more frightening. I love my friends and the people here. They are appalled that Australia is doing this to us."

Robb and her husband visited Australia before 1994, which meant they could get permanent residency through a Resident Return Visa. But changes announced two weeks ago meant they would have to wait four years, rather than one, to apply for citizenship.

In another twist, she secured her residency before a special pathway for expat Kiwis was announced last year. It would have allowed them to apply for citizenship after a year.

"It's an absolute minefield," Robb said. "There is always a catch."

In his first assignment in foreign affairs, Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee will meet with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in Sydney this morning, where he plans to discuss not only the education proposals but also the broader decline of the transtasman relationship.

The New Zealand Government has reacted angrily to the proposals to raise fees in universities, which were announced three days ago with little warning.

Australian permanent residents from all countries and New Zealand citizens will pay full fees; an average increase of A$8000 to A$9000 a year. About 6000 New Zealanders are in this category.

There are also fears Kiwi children could soon be charged to attend Australian state schools.

Henry Sherrell, an immigration researcher at the Australian National University, told Radio New Zealand that state governments needed money, and could follow the federal government's lead in looking to Kiwi expats with children at state schools.

Some Australian states charge some skilled foreigners between $3000 and $5000 per child a year to attend public schools, he said.

"It is all about clawing back money to try and fill the deficit. This is a clear case of where international relations have been subjected below trying to fix the budgetary mess. This could easily extend down to state governments as well," Sherrell said.

Sherrell said most Kiwi expats couldn't vote and politicians were aware of that.

Victoria University researcher Paul Hamer, who has a special interest in New Zealanders in Australia, said in 2001 when John Howard imposed restrictions on Kiwi expats he wrote to state premiers seeking to allay fears from the New Zealand government that education and health charges could be next to come in.

"This was a fear not only that New Zealand economists had, that New Zealand officials had, but also something that the Australian officials had raised with New Zealand in 2000 as a likely consequence of the 2001 changes. For that reason it remains a possibility," Hamer told Radio New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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