More than 100,000 New Zealanders living as "indefinite
temporaries" in Australia may finally gain rights to
Australian welfare and student loans following a landmark
joint transtasman inquiry.
The nine-month inquiry by the Australian and New Zealand
Productivity Commissions into further transtasman integration
has found that denying full rights to Kiwis on indefinite
temporary visas in Australia "may develop into a point of
irritation within the transtasman relationship".
The commissions have urged Australia to create a new
"pathway" for New Zealanders to gain permanent residence and
Australian citizenship, and to let NZ citizens get Australian
student loans after "an appropriate waiting period" such as
two years' residence.
Submitters told the inquiry the current rules barring Kiwis
from welfare, student loans and voting rights had created an
"underclass" of disfranchised people, many of whom had paid
Australian taxes for many years.
Prime Minister John Key and Julia Gillard, Australia's Prime
Minister, both acknowledged the problem when they announced
the joint inquiry in January.
Ms Gillard said then: "We need to keep working on it,
obviously it's got money implications and that's something
that we've always got to be very careful about. So we'll keep
working it through."
The problem dates back to 2001, when Australia reaffirmed the
right for Kiwis to stay in Australia indefinitely, but only
on "special category visas" which do not include any right to
vote or to most welfare payments.
Kiwis on special category visas have also been unable to get
Australian student loans since 2005.
The inquiry found the number of New Zealand citizens in
Australia had increased from about 450,000 in 2001 to 647,863
on June 30 this year, of whom between 506,000 and 546,000
were "ordinarily resident" in Australia.
About half of those, 240,000, had arrived since the 2001
changes but only 40 per cent to 60 per cent of these were
eligible to apply for permanent residence under the normal
points system based on skills, employment and being under the
age of 50.
"This suggests that the balance of non-protected special
category visa holders, or between 100,000 and 144,000 people,
would be ineligible for a number of safety net payments and
social policy supports," the inquiry found.
NZ Productivity Commission chairman Murray Sherwin said the
exact pathway for those people to gain Australian citizenship
would be up to the Australian Government, but "it could be
based on employment history".
A Wellington researcher who has studied the issue, Paul
Hamer, said the commissions recognised it was "inherently
unproductive" to create an "underclass" of Australian workers
who had no social protection and whose children were
effectively shut out of higher education.
"This is the most explicit recognition by any arm of the
Australian state since 2001 that these things are unfair," he
said. "I think it's quite a step forward."
- Simon Collins, New Zealand Herald