Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can now add to her CV the skill of getting blood out of a stone after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's decision to include New Zealanders in his JobKeeper subsidies for workers impacted by Covid-19.
Morrison announced yesterday that New Zealanders working in Australia would qualify for the AU$1500 fortnightly wage subsidies on offer. New Zealanders are the only non-citizen group who will: all others on work visas do not get the subsidy.
It puts some New Zealanders in Australia in a better position than those still in this country: when he outlined the package, Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg boasted the subsidies package was bigger than those on offer in New Zealand.
It is remarkable because of the rarity of any tangible recognition by Australia of the so-called "special relationship" between New Zealand and Australia, one that allows citizens of both countries to live and work in the other without needing to become a citizen.
Since Australia withdrew many of those rights to social security assistance in 2001, Prime Minister after Prime Minister on this side of the Ditch have had to scrape and grovel to try to get some back and ensure New Zealanders are not further penalised by new policy changes in Australia.
From Helen Clark, to John Key, to Bill English to Jacinda Ardern they have emphasised New Zealanders in Australia earn more on average than other populations, pay more taxes and are not a drain on the welfare system.
All have also pointed out that Australians living in New Zealand get all the entitlements New Zealanders are deprived of over there. Yet no matter how close the personal relationship between the two PMs, very little was given away.
New Zealand 🇳🇿 Prime Minister @jacindaardern has a message for Kiwis living in Australia 🇦🇺 after the Australian Govt announced that NZ workers in AUS are among those eligible for the wage subsidy scheme. For more info, please watch the video below & visit https://t.co/b7kqLOULCK pic.twitter.com/rKAzOjYYBj— NZ in Australia (@NZAustralia) March 31, 2020
The most recent example was Ardern's very public lambasting about the "corrosive effect" on the relationship of Australia's policy of deporting criminals, regardless of how long they have lived in Australia.
So in the future, both sides will make much of this nod to New Zealanders – Labour MPs here already credited it to Ardern's lobbying efforts, while Australia can now claim that it didn't hang its New Zealand "family" out to dry.
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Don't, however, expect it to become a habit for Australia.
It is not a decision driven by altruism or Anzac sentiment on Morrison's part.
It is a pragmatic decision. There are an estimated 650,000 New Zealanders working under the special category visa. Those workers are threaded throughout some of Australia's most critical industries – from mining to hospitals to farming.
In many cases, employers will not want to lose specialised or trained staff simply because they are New Zealanders.
Those skills and that workforce will be crucial when Australia wants to kick-start its economy back into action. If those people are not sitting there waiting, some businesses will have to scramble for staff with the same skills, or train new staff.
Morrison himself spelled this out, when he said, "they are part of the ongoing economy here in Australia".
It is also a finite and relatively short-term package of assistance, not one that will add to Australia's bill year after year.
Nothing has changed in terms of the longer-term rights' issues New Zealanders in Australia face, such as being excluded from the welfare system if they lose their job altogether.
It is very much a case of ask for a mile, and you might get an inch.