New Zealanders caught by Australian laws excluding most from
social welfare, higher education and access to permanent
residency are increasingly becoming guest workers paying full
tax but with few rights.
Australian critics of the policies warn that the nation is
creating a permanent underclass of expatriate Kiwis, losing
significant human and economic potential while storing up
major social problems, including poverty and rising crime
Victoria University senior lecturer Kate McMillan said most
New Zealanders might see their access to Australia only as an
opportunity - without realising the potential pitfalls.
"How much do people know before they go?" she asked.
Most Kiwis in Australia have no safety nets in case of injury
or misfortune. They have little chance of gaining full rights
or citizenship however long they might live there.
Dr McMillan said children who moved to Australia at a young
age were among those worst affected.
"The laws have changed a lot in relation to them. They're
very much the ones who are caught out."
She said there should be more of a public debate about having
a single economic market with Australia if there were going
to be such inconsistencies and disadvantages.
Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, Phil Goff, said the issue
was about long-term residents who were stuck in permanent
"There's an increasing number of people who, for all intents
and purposes, can be regarded as Australian, because they've
made a permanent commitment and their kids have grown up
thinking they're Australian."
But - unlike Australians in New Zealand - they remained
unable to vote, and barred from public benefits.
"It's absolutely one-sided," he said.
The Australian Government has been told the rules introduced
in 2001 run counter to concepts of equity and its policy on
multiculturalism, and the exclusion of New Zealanders from
some state programmes has been defeated by
New Zealand and Australian critics of the policies further
claim that by targeting Kiwis on the basis of nationality,
Australia has breached important international treaties on
human rights and discrimination.
The repercussions are felt by Kiwis everyday. Gregg Harris,
who has worked in Port Douglas, north Queensland, for almost
five years, injured his ankle in December while helping a
friend fix a fence.
He will be off work for almost seven weeks, but he has been
unable to get any hardship assistance - or even his
Australia, supported by its Human Rights Commission, denies
the allegations of legal discrimination and maintains that
the 2001 changes ended preferential treatment for New
Zealanders and ensured all migrants were treated equally.
It also says permanent residency is available to Kiwis,
although the difficulties of shifting from the
"non-protected" Special Category Visas that came into force
in 2001 weigh heavily against most expats.
Moves to change the 2001 rules continue to be stonewalled by
the federal Government and diplomatic attempts to influence
Canberra appear to have run out of steam, despite efforts by
officials on both sides of the Tasman to find solutions.
With both major parties in Australia sharing a common view,
no interest in the issue by the media there, and increasing
economic pressures, any early relief for the expatriate NZ
community is unlikely.
The large numbers of New Zealanders recruited by Australian
companies to fill gaps in the skilled workforce, and by
others moving in the hope of making a better life across the
Tasman, will only deepen the dilemma.
- Greg Ansley and Michael Dickison of the NZ Herald