Australian Senator Ian Macdonald, who chaired the committee that recommended tougher deportation rules for expat New Zealanders, would welcome us becoming Australia's seventh and eighth states. While saying a polite no, thanks, we should welcome the senator's goodwill towards improved access to Australian citizenship for New Zealanders. This would be the ideal solution to the position of expats who have been in Australia too long to be reasonably deported or to be denied the rights and benefits of Australian taxpayers.

It was a proposal canvassed by Labour leader Andrew Little and his foreign affairs spokesman, Phil Goff, in Canberra this week and no doubt by the Government in quieter diplomacy each time the anomalous position of expats becomes an issue between the two countries. Australian citizenship is the obvious solution for them - so obvious that most would have taken that course by now if it was straightforward, though Senator Macdonald did not believe it was arduous for anybody.

Nor did the Australian Labor Party's shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, who said most of the thousands of New Zealanders living in his South East Melbourne electorate did not want Australian citizenship because they would go back to New Zealand one day. Mr Little and Mr Goff's trip to appeal to select committees of the federal Parliament has tapped some popular attitudes, including Liberal MP Sharman Stone's view that, "Kiwis can no longer cross the Tasman and say, where's Centrelink?".

The idea that anyone would go there for welfare gave rise to the visa requirements introduced in 1994 and the welfare restrictions of 2001. It seems the "Bondi bludger" myth would still need to be overcome if New Zealanders are to be given an easier path to citizenship. But it is not the hardest issue standing in the path. The Australian Government was concerned in 2001 that New Zealand had become a back door for immigration from third countries.


Its proposed solution to that problem was a common border, which appears to mean migrants would face the same criteria for entry to both countries. Those applying under the skills category would need to persuade the (joint) immigration agency they had skills that were in short supply in both countries. That would give New Zealanders priority for filling skill shortages in Australia, and vice versa.

The two countries would be truly a single labour market with a common border. The idea is not far short of shared citizenship, which is what New Zealand effectively gives Australians, who have all the rights of citizens, even to vote, after a short time here. The common border was rejected in 2001 by Helen Clark and Mr Goff, as Foreign Minister, because it cut across New Zealand's arrangements with Pacific Island states.

Connections with the Pacific, particularly Polynesia, are as important to New Zealand as its arrangements with Australia - but need they be in conflict? Australia has a Polynesian community too. Common immigration concessions on a larger scale cannot be inconceivable if Australia finds a more generous spirit.