Fran O' Sullivan: All we want is a fair crack of the whip from you Aussies

Half a million Kiwis are being treated like second-class citizens

Julia Gillard and John Key will do some serious talking in Queenstown today. Photo / Getty Images
Julia Gillard and John Key will do some serious talking in Queenstown today. Photo / Getty Images

Young New Zealanders who have lived in Australia for most of their lives are fully integrated members of society with emotional, cultural and psychological connections that bind them to Australia.

Give us a fair go, Julia. I'm not going to sugar-coat this. You Australians are treating our New Zealanders as second-class citizens by denying our workers Government financial support when things go wrong in your country.

"So, let's just cut all the 'big brother, little brother' jousting that we indulge in in front of the journalists. They're not in the room with us now. And we are not here to score public points about our rugby prowess (even though we Kiwis are better).

"My message to you is one of fairness. Your Government is continuing to treat Kiwis almost like a bunch of soft-headed island folk who fill labour gaps in your economy. But your Government denies them any return on the taxes they contribute to your finances when things turn tough or when their children want to go on to further education.

"You have a moral duty not to deny these children access to Government funding for higher education along with their Australian classmates. You are crippling their chance at a decent future."

John Key - like Helen Clark before him - must at times wish he could indulge in such plain speaking during the annual bilateral meetings between the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia.

The issue of inter-country fairness will finally be firmly on the agenda when Key and Gillard meet in Queenstown today.

The Prime Minister indicated this week he will advocate for a better deal on behalf of the half a million New Zealanders living in Australia. Key told the journalists he wasn't making any promises. But he was clearly hoping for Australia to soften its hard-hearted stance towards New Zealanders.

The problem is that despite contributing to the Australian tax base, New Zealanders are not entitled to unemployment or sickness benefits after working there for two years, whereas Australians living here automatically get the same rights as New Zealand residents after two years.

Even worse - as the Herald's investigation on this issue eloquently revealed this year - is the plight of young, talented children of expatriate Kiwis who find their careers stunted when they leave school.

These kids are not able to get the same financial help as their Australian-born classmates when they seek to embark on higher education or to get government apprenticeships.

It's one thing to penalise adults. But cutting off their children's futures at the knee - again when those parents have in all likelihood contributed mightily to the Australian tax base - is outrageously unfair. And to allow this situation to continue would be frankly awful.

Thankfully, there is some recognition of this within the Australian system.

A joint study by the two countries' Productivity Commission has highlighted the equity issue. In a submission by Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology it was argued Australia has a moral case to answer in its treatment of expatriates' children.

"While parents arrived knowing they couldn't get entitlements, this is not so for their children ... Young New Zealanders who have lived in Australia for most of their lives are fully integrated members of society with emotional, cultural and psychological connections that bind them to Australia," said the academics.

New Zealand elites have been pressing for years now to remove some inequities in the relationship.

Much of the earlier focus was on trying to persuade Australia that mutual recognition of franking credits or dividends would be a good thing and a sign that the process of moving towards a single Australasian economic market was bearing fruit. But Australia has consistently argued (until the recent joint productivity commission report) that it would cost it too much (around A$1 billion in lost tax revenue). So, no thanks.

There have been sensible moves like the introduction of smart gate which has sped up the process of getting through immigration on both sides of the Tasman.

But it's time for some ballsy calls.

This week Key said to New Zealanders who were thinking about crossing the Tasman: "Make sure you understand and you go there with your eyes open about what your rights and opportunities are."

When he gets to have his large dose of face-time with the Australian Prime Minister at Queenstown today the message needs to be blunter.

The annual bilateral meeting is a convention that was established by John Howard and Clark when the former Australian Liberal Prime Minister became concerned that official bonds between the two countries would become more distant as the post-war generation grew older.

Unfortunately, the Howard Government also made major changes to the Australian social security laws in 2001 which ramped up the exclusions for New Zealanders from the Australian benefit system and other government agency assistance.

Howard and Clark have both moved on. Key and Gillard have a chance to make a difference.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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