For decades New Zealanders have poured across the Tasman Sea in search of a holiday, a better life or a bit of overseas work experience. In some years nearly 34,000 people have moved, or roughly equivalent to the population of Gisborne. But because of an announcement yesterday by Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counter part Malcolm Turnbull between 60,000 and 100,000 may qualify for citizenship.
This is major news for New Zealand-Australian relations as Australia has substantial leverage by the size of its population and economy that New Zealand simply does not. That leverage and an unspoken perception that Australian leaders despite all talking up the trans-Tasman relationship thought of New Zealand as a lesser nation meant New Zealanders were very much the poor non-Australians living in the so-called Lucky Country.
For decades successive Australian Prime Ministers steadfastly refused to assist New Zealanders living in Australia despite successive New Zealand counterparts trying to get them to ease up on the hard line attitude. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was the worst when he cracked down on New Zealanders living in Australia by denying them access to welfare and other services. His successors Prime Ministers Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott all steadfastly refused to back track.
I will be honest. Whilst I think this is absolutely awesome news, it is very much only a first step and much more needs to be done by Australia before there can be a semblance of parity. The following also need to happen, preferably to a time table – even if it is somewhat drawn out, which it probably would be:
- The status of the nearly 550,000 who do not qualify needs to be sorted out
- The tax status of those that do not qualify, but wish to remain needs to acknowledge their contribution
- Basic welfare and medical assistance needs to be made available for those that pay tax even if it is significantly less than what a citizen would be entitled to
- Vulnerable people with who cannot return to New Zealand need it to be written in Australian law that their well being will be secured by the Australian Government
So, thank you very much Mr Turnbull for your agreement with Prime Minister John Key to allow 60,000-100,000 New Zealanders an amnesty. It is a significant step forward after so long. But there is significant hard work still to be done.