N.Z and Australia: Elephant in the room is immigration

New Zealand and Australia enjoy a unique relationship that few other countries can come close to matching. Whether it is in history or economic relations, foreign affairs or culture, the similarities are impressive. So how then did other nationalities come to have a direct path to Australian citizenship, but not us?

558,000 New Zealanders live in Australia, up from 345,000 in 2001. Due to the very close relationship between the two countries, New Zealanders only need to arrive in Australia on a valid passport and can live and work in Australia indefinitely.

There is one significant catch though. New Zealanders do not have access as a general rule to Australian citizenship, in that there is not a specific pathway to becoming an Australian in the same way that there is for other nationalities. And this is a significant sticking point in Australia-New Zealand diplomatic relations. Successive Australian Governments whilst referring to New Zealanders and New Zealand as family have made a deliberate case of maintaining a distance using immigration policy.

Contrast that with New Zealand which accepts Australians and offers them a path to New Zealand citizenship. 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand. The restrictions as we shall see on Australians receiving assistance from New Zealand health, education and social welfare are less than those for New Zealanders in Australia.

With 558,000 New Zealand nationals living in Australia, inevitably a few feature in the crime and other unsavoury statistics. Minor offending is not generally something that attracts the attention of Australian officials. However more serious offending such as assault, robbery, and serious ones such as murder are known to attract the attention of the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Protection Agency among others.

This is where things get dicey. New Zealanders entering Australia long term need to apply for a Special Category Visa. Following law changes in 2001 New Zealanders living long term in Australia wanting access to social, and other services can only receive restricted access after applying and being granted permanent residence through the migrants programme.

A few New Zealanders who moved to Australia when they were very young and have no connection to New Zealand whatsoever have found themselves being deported from Australia for criminal offending to a country where they know no one, have no knowledge of customs, laws or otherwise. They have no official record such as an Inland Revenue Department number, will not have an photo ID available or official statements such as bank statements or utility bills to provide evidence of living. And yet here they find themselves in a completely foreign land, where the only thing in common is that both countries speak English and drive on the left.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the pathway to nowhere for New Zealanders – we enter Australia, we find our accommodation and get a job. We can set up a bank account and so forth without any problems and can come and go as we please. But the closest we can get to permanent residence or citizenship is the Special Category Visa. After all this time and the generosity we show to Australians living here is it not time for New Zealand to try to draw level?

Perhaps that is something for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters to take up with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne.

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