When Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gerry Brownlee went to Australia it was expected that he would convey the concerns of the New Zealand Government about Australia’s treatment of the many New Zealanders in the “Lucky Country”. Instead Mr Brownlee danced to the tune of his Australian counter part Julie Bishop.
So how did it come to this? How did the Australian-New Zealand relationship, which has been so warm and fuzzy for so long, come to this?
First off we have to ask ourtselves whether it really was that warm and fuzzy all along or whether New Zealanders had the wool pulled over our eyes. It is true that in some respects New Zealanders have easier access into Australia that other nationalities can simply only dream about. A New Zealander can simply fly to Australia, pass through customs and set about finding a job and a place to live.
But that is about where it stops. Those other nationalities have always had something we have never had: a path to Australian citizenship. Those other nationalities have had – once they have obtained Australian citizenship – access to Australian Government services, which we have never had.
So, is it possible the dream that New Zealanders have had when moving to Australia, always been that all along? A dream that they would find the greener pastures of better income, job opportunities and recreation that for whatever reason they thought could not be obtained in New Zealand? Quite possible. And worse still, despite the warning signs, we went along with it. And in some respects, many people seem to still be happy to go along with it. I have a current colleague moving to Australia in a few weeks time and I wonder if she knows and understands that those announcements a couple of weeks ago are going to affect further – i.e. erode – New Zealanders eligibility for Australian Government assistance whilst living there.
The deterioration started in 2001, when the Government of John Howard announced significant reforms to Australian immigration law specific to New Zealanders. This was the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens)Act, 2001. It blocked New Zealanders arriving after 26 February 2001 from getting Australian citizenship. It also blocked them from using social welfare services. It created an underclass of citizen living in Australia.
So, how much further are we going to let our relationship with Australia erode before we take the country that stood loyally beside us at Gallipoli and in so many other battles, to task over their treatment of us? I do not know. But we need to be careful when we eventually do. Australia, much as this treatment suggests otherwise is still our nearest and possibly our dearest neighbour and being a much larger, wealthier country. Pushing too hard for evening out the playing field might do more harm than good.