Last week I attended the Metropolis conference on immigration in Sydney along with representatives from government departments, non-government organisations, researchers, policy analysts, politicians and communities from all around the world.

It was a great conference and very timely. Immigration is one of those current touchpoints – and flashpoints – in many countries.

A couple of aspects were intriguing. The first was how some of those presenting characterised Australia.


Australia's Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, David Coleman, in a case of Trumpian hyperbole described Australia as "the greatest nation on earth".

There were some puzzled looks but to make sure the audience understood, he repeated the claim.

This was accompanied by further claims during the conference that Australia offered the best example of multiculturalism, often made by conservative politicians, although this was strongly contested by other Australian commentators.

Another aspect was much more troubling. New Zealand was invisible. There were literally no references made to New Zealand anywhere, except by those of us actually from New Zealand.

This was puzzling given that New Zealanders represent one of the largest overseas-born populations, hence "immigrants", in Australia. But it was clear that when immigration and immigrants were discussed, it was a minus-one definition — immigrants were those from anywhere but New Zealand.

This was underlined by the complete lack of any reference to the way in which New Zealanders are treated as immigrants.

In 1973, Australia and New Zealand began a process to align and treat each other's citizens and permanent residents with parity, notably the right to live and reside in each other's country.

This began to unravel in 2001 when New Zealanders were characterised as "dole bludgers" and there was a move to reduce the rights of New Zealanders in Australia.


This has been compounded by subsequent changes so that New Zealanders now have fewer settlement and access rights than immigrants from elsewhere in the world.

To underline this, there are the "501s", the recent deportation of more than 1300 offenders to New Zealander over recent years. According to the New York Times, 60 per cent of these deportees have been Māori or Pasifika.

And there are some new challenges. The Premier of New South Wales announced last week there would be a population review but has made it clear the intent is to reduce the number of immigrants arriving in New South Wales.

In the 2016-17 year, 104,000 of the net migrant arrivals to Australia ended up in New South Wales and she wants to drop it to "Howard-era rates" (then about 45,000).

The concern is the pressure on New South Wale's infrastructure, an issue Aucklanders will be only too familiar with. But how do you control the arrival of New Zealanders heading towards Sydney?

New Zealand politicians of varying persuasions have been completely unable to get Australian politicians, of varying persuasions, to even discuss the issues, much less to redress the inequities.

When there was discussion at the conference of other countries and who might provide some guidance for Australia, it was most likely to be Canada. And there are some reasons for this.

Canada has a managed immigration recruitment and selection policy, a significant investment in post-arrival settlement, actively managing the regional distribution of immigrants, a generous refugee offer, especially in relation to Syrian war refugees (come on New Zealand, we can do better here) and a commitment to social cohesion and diversity recognition.

Canada does have anti-immigrant and Islamophobic politics, especially among the alt right and nationalist groups as New Zealanders found out earlier this year.

Don't get me wrong, the conference provided some engaging and spirited discussion, and the Australians have been great hosts.

But we – New Zealand – have a problem. We simply do not feature on this side of the Tasman when it comes to immigration debates. This is going to be become an even more significant issue.

The latest immigration and emigration statistics for New Zealand show the numbers leaving to settle in Australia are beginning to trend upwards again.

Will we reach the more than 50,000 departures to Australia per year that we saw during the Global Financial Crisis?

It's too soon to tell. But it will put further stress on the relationship between Australia and New Zealand — and underscore the lack of parity in terms of how each country treats the citizens of the other.

• Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University, was elected the co-director of Metropolis International in Sydney.