Culture

Junk Explained: Here’s Exactly Why New Zealanders Are So Mad At Australia

This isn't some dumb feud. Australia has a growing underclass of Kiwis -- and they're right to be angry.

[Update April 24, 2017]: Hey, it looks like New Zealanders have another reason to be mad at Australia this week!

Last Thursday, the Australian government’s changes to citizenship requirements copped a lot of criticism. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the government would implement a new English language test as well as a questionnaire based on unnamed “Australian values”. Many were quick to label the move overtly jingoistic, exclusionary, and perhaps not all that effective. But what wasn’t so clear at the time was the changes which were also in store for New Zealanders already living here. Turnbull also announced that anyone applying for citizenship also had to be a permanent resident for four years prior (instead of the current policy of one year).

This is a big deal for Kiwis as it comes off the back of a recent deal to secure a new pathway to Australian citizenship. The deal provided New Zealanders who had lived here for five consecutive years earning more than $53,000 per annum the ability to apply for permanent residency, then citizenship one year later. With these new changes, these residents would have to wait three more years. This means if you met all the criteria (which is already tough), you would spend a minimum of nine years in Australia before being given a shot at citizenship.

The New Zealand press are claiming the deal has been “completely undermined” and “gutted” and Prime Minister Bill English has called it “just another issue in the ongoing discussion about the nature of the special relationship between Australia and New Zealand”.

Here’s some history on that confused ANZAC spirit:

Australians and New Zealanders have a unique relationship. You can fly to Auckland from the east coast in less time than it takes to get to Darwin. We share an inheritance of the Westminster system of government, a unhealthy devotion to buying sausages out the front of hardware stores, a catchy song, an unquestioning reverence for the ANZAC legend, and a taste for vaguely homoerotic sport — you’ll never look at a rugby scrum the same way again. On the surface, New Zealand and Australia are two sides of the same coin.

So it might have come as a shock last week when the Australians Today report (the largest study of immigrants ever produced in Australia) suggested that Kiwis reported higher levels of discrimination than other migrants. A whopping 28 percent of New Zealanders in Australia on a Special Category Visa say their experience of the Lucky Country has been more negative than they expected — a level comparable only to asylum seekers. New Zealanders also reported the lowest level of trust in Australian politics and federal parliament.

Predictably, online comments sections have been full of people calling New Zealanders “sookie cunts” who “should be treated like any other foreigner”. If we dare “come over here and bemoan how Australia is not like NZ… WELL GO HOME!!! How rude.”

But what’s rude is the assumption that New Zealand migrants are whining no-hopers who come to Australia to live off the dole and take Australian jobs — that we manage to do both at once is indicative of how much we truly despise honest, hardworking Australians. This is about so much more than Centrelink.

Many Australians either don’t know or don’t give attention to one of the nation’s dirty little secrets: its growing underclass of New Zealanders. I’m one of around 250,000 Kiwis who have arrived in Australia since 2001 — and we’re right to be angry.

Where Did It Go Wrong?

On February 26 2001, the Howard Government restricted access to social security benefits and eligibility for Australian citizenship — restrictions that would prove to have a lasting impact for all New Zealanders who arrived after this date. The definition of an “Australian resident” was changed to exclude Kiwis.

This change to the Social Security Act meant that any New Zealanders who arrived on a Special Category Visa (subclass 444) after February 26 were to be classed as permanent residents for tax purposes, but live without access to basic social services. They cannot receive unemployment and sickness benefits, bereavement or widow allowance, youth or new start allowances (including recent initiatives to get young people in the workforce), parenting payments, carer allowances, or HECS-funded study. In some states, New Zealand parents cannot access disability support services for their children, regardless of which country they were born.

In what came as a nasty shock to New Zealanders during the Queensland floods of 2010-11, the change also made them ineligible for disaster recovery assistance from the Australian federal government. Outcry from their counterparts in New Zealand eventually forced Australia’s hand. The New Zealand government responded by providing equal emergency and unemployment benefits to Australian residents, just as they would to their own citizens, in the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011.

Although we can still live and work in Australia, for social security benefits or citizenship, New Zealanders first have to get a permanent visa, which is expensive — $3,600 for the primary applicant and $1,800 for their partners. Permanent residency eligibility also relies on meeting strict age and skills criteria. This means that less than half of New Zealand migrants who arrived after February 26, 2001 were eligible to apply for permanent residency.

For many, this has prompted an exodus back home, but for others the choice isn’t so easy. With migration so free between the two countries and NZ families being encouraged to make roots across the ditch, there often isn’t a ‘home’ to return to at all.

Who Does This Affect?

Joanne Cox is one of many New Zealanders who has been caught up in this bind. She arrived in Australia in 2008 and says she’s no more eligible to apply for permanent residency now than when she first stepped off the plane.

“For a New Zealander in Australia, they could wait forever and never be eligible [for citizenship] because they don’t have that permanent resident status,” she says. “If you arrive here on the temporary visa, the subclass 444, you’re just as screwed as everyone else who comes here.”

This is not an uncommon scenario.

Joanne Cox is the Committee Deputy Chair of Oz Kiwi, a non-for-profit group advocating for the fair treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia. Australians living in New Zealand have it good, and Joanne says Oz Kiwi is just trying to make that a two-way street again. “What Oz Kiwi is trying to do is to re-establish some of that reciprocity with what happens for Australians who go to live in New Zealand,” she says.

With that comes the right to vote. Like any foreign national in New Zealand, Australians can vote in the New Zealand elections after living in the country for one year. Joanne says the benefits don’t stop there; there’s a direct pathway to citizenship and the cost is not prohibitive. “They can get social welfare after two years, student loans after three years and after five years they pay $450 dollars and they can become a citizen,” she says.

For New Zealanders in Australia, the process isn’t cheap — or easy. Although the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement has made it almost free to move goods across the Tasman Sea, the same cannot be said for the movement of people. Many New Zealanders have no direct pathway to permanent residency (a precursor to citizenship) so we can only secure citizenship by sponsorship or by competing with other migrants for a limited number of skilled visas. Joanne says there isn’t an easy option.

“You need to make up 60 points to obtain permanent residence and things that count towards your points are the nationality of your birth, your age, your qualifications, the industry experience you have through your job, whether you have an Australian spouse… The age factor is quite a big one, after your early 30s you virtually get no points for your age.”

Despite having a postgraduate degree, Joanne says the age factor wasn’t in her favour. “That’s what counted against me, I didn’t have an Australian partner and I don’t have a tertiary qualification in the right sector, i.e. I don’t meet one of the skilled visa roles.”

This is something Joanne and I have in common. I took the skilled points test online to see if I would be eligible for permanent residency and failed miserably, despite living here since 2008, having an honours degree and being gainfully employed. I have, however, managed to get my permanent residency through other means. My parents just had to die while I was still a dependant minor for me to be eligible for the Orphan Relative Via (subclass 837).

Who knew being an orphan would be my saving grace? Thanks mum and dad.

I got off easy, but it doesn’t take much to find someone who’s been closed out completely. Documents released under a Freedom of Information request in 2013, and published in New Matilda, reveal that New Zealand women on the run from domestic violence with their Australian children are left with few support options because they are not eligible for social security payments. Incredibly, if New Zealand women seek help from a charity or women’s refuge, the organisation may not be able to provide her with shelter because she is ineligible for the social security payments that many refuges and charities require women to receive to help cover the cost of their stay.

Like I said, this is about so much more than just Centrelink.

Left Homeless From A Bung Knee

Like most young New Zealanders, Travis Wilson was motivated by the substantial wage increase when he jumped the ditch to move to Melbourne in 2001. “I was only 18-19 when I came here,” he says. “I thought, ‘yeah Australia’s cool’. They’ve got heaps of good wages and it’s a free visa. You literally just pack your bag and get your note from the bank to say you’ve signed all ties off so you can open up a bank account here in Australia. That was it.”

A native of Wanganui on the west coast of the North Island, Travis is studying full-time as an apprentice panel-beater and works three jobs to make ends meet. Despite this, he makes a little over $500 a week. If he became an Australian citizen, Travis would be eligible for $20,000 over four years via NewStart.

“It’s pretty brutal — being a 34-year-old earning $500. My rent’s like $280,” he says.

Travis has made Australia his home, and he has an entrepreneurial spirit. He says he’s thinking outside the square. “From the amount of times I’ve looked over it over the years, getting married is pretty much the quickest and easiest route to go down to become an Australian citizen,” he says.

He isn’t talking about marrying for a green card. He and his Australian partner, Heidi, have been together for almost seven years; they’re the real deal — but it’s not an ideal situation.

“We have spoken about it and we’ve gone, ‘we’ll just do it just to get the process started so if anything does come up, then we’re covered by it’ — but it’s silly that we have to go down that route for the ‘just in case I need a week’s wage’, it’s so silly.”

Getting permanent residency is one of those things you put off; like doing your tax or getting on your landlord’s case about dodgy wiring. There’s a lot of paperwork, forms, chasing stuff up. Travis says he only started looking into it the first time when he broke his knee and couldn’t work.

“Six of us hired a house down in Torquay for the Christmas holidays. We’d got the hacky sack out, it went over the swimming pool fence, and as I jumped over the fence my knee just gave way and, thanks for coming, that was me gone.”

Unable to work, unable to get government support, and with an upcoming surgery to pay for, Travis says things got even worse when he couldn’t make his rent. “I ended having to shift out of my house. My housemate/friend — who I thought was my friend — kind of just put me out on my arse and said, ‘hey, you’re $300 dollars short on rent; get it or get out. I had to literally shift all my shit out and go and live on a mate’s couch — rent free — for another six months.

“That was definitely the testing time, that was definitely the lowest point of me being in Melbourne; sleeping on couches and not eating for days because I felt too embarrassed to hit up my friend again to go, ‘hey, can I come round and have some toast with you?’”

In February this year the Australian government announced a pathway for New Zealanders in Australia to apply for citizenship — a special measure for those who have “shown a commitment and contribution to Australia” by earning more than $54,000 for five consecutive years.

The Department of Immigration estimates that between 60,000 and 70,000 of the 140,000 New Zealanders who arrived in Australia on a Special Category Visa after 2001 will be eligible and hailed it as a landmark moment “in acknowledgement of our special bilateral relationship”.

Travis, a low-income earner who is blind in one eye, won’t make the cut.

Earlier this week, the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Zed Seselja, said he could not understand why New Zealanders in the Australia Today report felt discriminated against.

I don’t know, Zed. I can think of a few reasons.

Emma Nobel is a research assistant, sessional tutor and social media producer for the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University. Her work has been broadcast on ABC RN and All The Best on fBi Radio. She tweets at @emmanobel.