Yesterday's move by Turnbull is a courageous one in election year.

All New Zealanders are equal, but some New Zealanders are more equal than others, especially when they are living in Australia.

That irritant in the transtasman relationship - creating different classes of Kiwis in Australia depending on when they arrived - was addressed in part yesterday by Malcolm Turnbull.

It means that New Zealanders who came to Australia in the past 15 years, thinking they had the same rights as those who came 20 years ago, can catch up.

That's if they were earning something like an ordinary wage for five years - which is estimated to be about a third of them, or 100,000.


It also means that Kiwis who come from today won't be able to get the same pathway to citizenship.

But they at least will go to Australia with no illusions - if their goal is permanent residency and citizenship in Australia, they will have no special favours. The reason for Australia's rule change in 2001 was a fairly spectacular one. John Howard's Government was paying $1.1 billion in welfare to Kiwis while New Zealand was paying only $170 million to Australians.

Helen Clark's Government refused to reimburse the Australians so had to agree to some reduction in entitlements and disincentives to maintain the flow of Kiwis to Australia.

She said at the time: "It sends a clear message to Kiwis that when you go overseas, you can't expect the nanny state to accompany you wherever you go from New Zealand. You live by the host country's rules."

Yesterday's move by Turnbull is a courageous one in election year.

He was clearly convinced that it was unfair to make it harder for that cohort of Kiwis to get citizenship than others from around the world.

It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of New Zealand arrivals between 2006 and 2012 got permanent residence.

But Turnbull has expended some of his capital on the move.

He may be betting that Australian Labor does not turn the issue of Kiwis in Australia into a political football during the campaign.

It would not be hard to portray it as Kiwis wanting to get entitlements to benefits rather than Kiwis wanting to properly call Australia home.

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