In recent years, newly sworn-in Australian prime ministers have taken to scurrying across the Tasman to meet their New Zealand counterpart as the concluding rite of passage.

No doubt when Malcolm Turnbull and John Key meet the media in front of a display of almost identical national flags on Friday, there'll be talk of our unique closeness as nations. The special relationship will be dusted down, as will our shared military exploits, brothers in arms, blooded in battles from the Boer Wars in South Africa to present-day Iraq.

There'll be sibling rivalry about who will bring home the Rugby World Cup, and loyal toasts to our shared Queen.

From the New Zealand end of the telescope, this new emphasis on mateship by the Australian leadership has a whiff of hypocrisy. It coincides with yet another move by Australia to drive a wedge between two peoples who have, for most of our short histories, regarded ourselves as one.


Until 2001 we were effectively moving back and forth across the Tasman seeking work in one big market. My mother, for example, was born in Perth. Her parents were migrants from England and Europe. They spent time in Kalgoorlie before settling in Auckland. In the 1970s, two of my brothers made the return trip, settling in Sydney. As was the tradition, they retained their New Zealand citizenship, but enjoy all the rights of Australian citizens.

All this changed in February 2001 when the Australian Government, reacting to hysteria about Kiwi bludgers, drew a line in the relationship, cancelling for future Kiwi migrants many of the traditional "citizenship" rights New Zealanders had until then received. These second-class Kiwis lost rights to unemployment benefits, student loans and, depending on which state they lived in, assorted other social benefits and support.

Last November this divide was widened with a law making any Kiwi convicted of a child-sex crime or sentenced to a year or more in prison automatically subject to loss of visa and deportation to New Zealand. The law is retrospective and cumulative, and since its passage, immigration officials have been actively dredging through old records and rounding Kiwis up, often in dawn raids reminiscent of the overstayer raids in Auckland of the late 1970s.

John Key says 1000 New Zealanders - some in Australia since they were toddlers - could face expulsion. Greg Barns, the president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, told TV3 the number could be much higher. He said 5000 New Zealanders had been jailed in Australia in the past 10 years and the majority could be facing deportation.

Mr Key says he will bring up the issue this weekend, but won't "put Malcolm in an armlock" over it. Instead he will cite the "special relationship" and our history as "Anzac brothers".

Unfortunately, that's the approach the Clark Government adopted after the anti-New Zealander changes of 2001, and all it did was trigger the lovey-dovey visits from Australian PMs. What needs to happen is a revival of the spirit of the Closer Economic Relations agreement of 1983. It and subsequent treaties created one of the most comprehensive bilateral free-trade agreements in existence. Regrettably, free trade in workers was not a part of it. This allowed the Australians to raise barriers to the movement of workers which, until 2001, did not exist.

What CER needs are the principles of free movement and equal treatment of workers that underpin the European Union. Migrating citizens within the common market have access to many social benefits and educational opportunities in the country they settle in, though these can be contested.

As for lawbreakers, they can be deported by member countries, but not en masse as the Australians are doing. Deportation has to be on the grounds "of public policy or public security", and decided on a case-by-case basis. A criminal conviction alone is not sufficient grounds for automatic expulsion.

If a group of warring nations like Europe can do it, why not a pair of blood-brother mates.