New Zealand ministers will try to persuade their Australian counterparts to give them access to Australia's tax data to allow Inland Revenue to claw back hundreds of millions in student loan debt owed by expatriate New Zealanders.
Prime Minister John Key and six ministers leave today for a joint Cabinet meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ministers.
They are accompanied by a business delegation.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said he was hoping to make some progress on several bilateral initiatives related to the huge amount of student loan debt owed by New Zealanders in Australia.
Around two-thirds of student loan debtors who left New Zealand were based across the Tasman. Those who were in default were believed to owe $350 million.
Mr Joyce said: "The real possibility is the ability to share data, particularly Australian taxpayer data, to enable us to contact New Zealand debtors in Australia more easily.
"The experience we've had is that once you contact them, about 70 per cent of them make arrangements to pay."
The New Zealand Government could eventually collect debt through the Australian tax system, which would be a significant step in recouping the millions owed.
Inland Revenue was already aggressively pursuing the worst of the Australian-based debtors via debt collectors and court action. These moves have been criticised by student unions which said Government should be focusing on making repayments easier instead of taking punitive measures.
A transtasman agreement on getting access to tax data would heavily favour New Zealand. Australians living in New Zealand only owed around $20 million in student debt.
Mr Joyce did not believe New Zealand would have to make any concessions if an agreement was negotiated.
The minister would also discuss the possibility of expat New Zealanders getting access to student loans to study in Australian institutions.
Those who arrived in Australia after 2001 could not get access to welfare, student support or other social services.
Mr Joyce emphasised that he was not expecting significant progress on funding for New Zealanders in higher education because of Australia's fiscal position.
Another issue likely to feature in the talks were reports that Australian supermarkets were removing New Zealand-made products from their shelves as part of a Buy Australia campaign. Mr Key said yesterday that he was unsure if the shutting out of New Zealand goods was legal and officials were looking closely at it.
Student loan debt
•Prime Minister John Key and six ministers leave today for Australia.
•They want to get access to Australia's tax data to claw back hundreds of millions in student loan debt owed by expatriate New Zealanders.
•Two-thirds of student loan debtors who left New Zealand were based across the Tasman.
•Those who were in default were believed to owe $350 million.
•Australians living in New Zealand only owed around $20 million in student debt.