Broke, jobless and heartbroken, Robyn Munro says boarding a plane to New Zealand after calling the Gold Coast home for 14 years made her feel "absolutely worthless".
"It's incredibly heartbreaking," said the 61-year-old, through tears from Christchurch.
"I've worked in Australia and paid taxes for nearly 15 years and my life, my friends and everything I own was there."
Munro is one of 107,570 New Zealand citizens who have fled Australia since March this year, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provisional data on international travel.
It's estimated most of the Kiwis who left had to leave their homes, children and friends because they aren't entitled to financial support from the Australian Government.
The largest chunk of departures was in March, with 87,620 leaving during the height of the global pandemic.
But in the past three months, 11,330 New Zealand citizens had returned to their homeland, pointing to the fact that Kiwis — some of whom have paid tax in Australian for nearly 20 years — are struggling to put food on their table, get a job or pay their rent.
Munro, who works in aged care, had been looking for work since she finished up her job in September last year. During this time she was not entitled to Centrelink payments.
When Covid hit she was eligible for JobSeeker for six months because, despite being a New Zealand citizen, she has lived in Australia for more than 10 years.
However, once the payment stopped and she had to compete for work with Gold Coasters, most of whom were 40 years her junior, Munro said life was grim.
"Over the years I've volunteered in the Tweed area, cooking meals for the homeless, and I was at that point where I almost ended up homeless myself," she said.
"If I hadn't have left I would've been in a position where I was sleeping in a car, without actually having any money to be able to run the car."
Munro, formerly of Parkwood, left Australia at the start of October and is now trying to rebuild a life for herself despite not having a home or her belongings.
"Over the years I've done many things, including driving a truck, because when you're a single mother of five you do whatever you can to put bread and butter on the table."
Munro said the lack of support from the Australian Government made her feel "absolutely worthless" and she hoped her story would resonate with others.
"Lots of Aussies aren't aware that we're not entitled to anything and they're shocked, with many trying to do what they can to help us because their leaders won't.
"Governments are quick to mention the Anzac spirit at the drop of a hat, but from where I'm standing it feels like it doesn't exist."
Nerang Neighbourhood Centre co-ordinator Vicky Rose has joined the Australian Labour Party to fight for a direct pathway to citizenship for Kiwis.
Most of the nearly 300,000 New Zealanders who migrated to Australia after February 26, 2001 do not, and will not qualify for social security benefits, despite paying taxes.
This is because of the limited visa streams and strict criteria Australia offers New Zealanders, with one visa requiring annual earnings of at least A$53,900 (about $1036 a week) each year for four consecutive years (exemptions may apply).
Currently the minimum wage in Australia is around A$39,197 or A$753.80 per week.
Rose said despite a will by most Kiwis to become a permanent resident and/or Australian citizen, a large chunk will never qualify.
Income tax from Kiwis in Australia was about A$5 billion in 2015 alone. Other internationals living and working in Australia on permanent visas are eligible for supports in times of crisis.
Australians are not excluded from Social Security support in New Zealand and can access benefits after two years of living in New Zealand without any visa applications or paperwork.
- Gold Coast Bulletin