The myth of the "Kiwi dole bludger" is preventing hundreds of
thousands of New Zealanders from having equal rights and
opportunities in Australia, according to a group staging
protest rallies across the country yesterday.
Erina Anderson, co-founder of Iwi in Aus, said debate had
been distorted by the widely held belief that "if the rules
change, New Zealanders will flood in and sponge off Australia
... It's a complex and deeply misunderstood issue, and the
argument constantly gets skewed around benefits."
Iwi in Aus, which organised protests in Melbourne, Sydney,
Perth, Adelaide and the Gold Coast, has been campaigning for
a year for New Zealanders living in Australia to be given
citizenship and the vote, as well as access to higher
education loans, welfare payments and jobs in the government
Until February 26, 2001, Australians and New Zealanders who
crossed the Tasman continued to enjoy rights similar to those
at home. But a deal struck by then Prime Ministers Helen
Clark and John Howard stripped Kiwis living in Australia of
those rights - although they still have to pay tax.
Many of the estimated 300,000 New Zealanders who moved to
Australia after that date are suffering hardship. Admitted on
"special category" visas, they have no right to disability
care, social housing or other welfare benefits. Some say this
has created a "permanent underclass" of New Zealanders
trapped in a cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Yesterday's Melbourne rally was attended by just 30
protesters, but "a whole lot of people came to wish them
luck", Anderson told the Herald. "We know we're not going to
start out big, because it's all been grassroots campaigning.
We have no political voice, because we can't vote.
"We're ordinary people who are desperate, really. We're all
mums and dads and grandparents who can see the bigger
picture, the profound effects not just here and now, but on
to the lives and futures of our children and grandchildren."
Sixty people attended last night's demonstration in Adelaide,
70 turned out in Perth and in Sydney, 20 braved
thunderstorms. A rally was also planned in the Western
Australian town of Albany, the last port from which Anzac
soldiers sailed to fight in the First World War.
Prime Minister John Key met counterpart Tony Abbott in Sydney
this month, and afterwards welcomed Abbott's confirmation
that long-term New Zealand residents will be able to get
But as far as other issues are concerned, Anderson believes
Key "isn't fighting our corner".
The legislative changes in 2001 have left New Zealanders
unable to become permanent residents - and thus citizens -
unless they fulfil the same strict age and skills criteria as
anyone else seeking to migrate.
While the special category visa allows them to live and work
here permanently, "we can never be part of this country",
"We're not coming over here to get hand-outs. But we'd like
to be able to vote. We'd like our kids to be entitled to the
same things as other kids. We'd like to know that if we lose
our jobs, we're not going to lose our home.
"We pay our taxes the same as everyone else. If they don't
want us here, they should stop letting us in so freely."
- by Kathy Marks in Sydney