An unfortunate precedent: Support excluded to New Zealand citizens living in Australia

Last year I wrote about the New Zealand citizens living in Australia, many of whom are stuck without access to permanent residency and without welfare rights.

At December 2013, there were 625,000 New Zealand citizens in Australia. This includes tourists and visitors. The number of people living in Australia is generally thought to be about 80%, meaning 500,000 residents.

Importantly, these people are split into two categories. New Zealand citizens living in Australia prior to February 2001 have are “protected”, those arriving after this date are “unprotected”. All of these people have the same visa conditions; full work rights and no time limit on residency.

The differences come from eligibility for government support. Protected citizens are generally provided the same government support as Australian citizens. The unprotected category are restricted from a range of services including:

  • Unemployment benefits
  • Single parent benefits
  • Youth allowance
  • Student loans (HECS, HELP)

This has been a fairly stable policy area since the 2001 changes. New welfare or support provisions have been provided to pre-2001 citizens while post-2001 citizens have been excluded, with the NDIS being the most prominent recent example (despite post-2001 arrivals being required to pay the income levy for the NDIS…).

Unfortunately this distinction may be changing.

A new bill – Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 – introduced to the House of Representatives on February 27, specifically excludes pre-2001 arrivals from new welfare incentive payments linked to labour mobility. The Explanatory Memorandum reads:

“The Bill provides that a person must be an Australian resident throughout the period of work on which they rely to claim the Job Commitment Bonus. The Bill provides that, for this purpose, Australian resident has its usual meaning in the social security law (i.e. a person who resides in Australia and who is an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, or the holder of a protected special category visa (SCV)), except that the Bill would exclude protected SCV holders from being eligible for the Job Commitment Bonus.”

Specific exclusion of protected New Zealand citizens from new forms of government support is the first time this has occurred (to my knowledge).

An advocacy organisation for New Zealand citizens living in Australia – OzKiwi – had this to say on the proposal:

“This bill may relate to only one government programme, but it sets a very dangerous precedent. The Federal Government is effectively claiming that ‘protected’ status is not absolute and no longer equivalent to holding a permanent visa – it can diminish the rights of pre-2001 Kiwis however and whenever it wishes. It is using its poor treatment of post-2001 arrivals to justify stripping rights from pre-2001 arrivals in the name of equality.”

There is no official figure on the number of protected and unprotected New Zealand citizens. A broadly used guestimate is 300,000 protected and 200,000 unprotected.

That is 200,000 people living and working in Australia, in some cases for up to 13 years, without the prospect of permanent residency or government support when needed. While there are many other temporary visa holders (students, 457 visas etc), the vast majority have a pathway to a permanent residency.

Unfortunately this policy issue will not simply disappear for governments. The detrimental effect on Australian society is compounded every year these welfare restrictions are enforced. High school graduates unable to go to university, holding back labour force productivity. Unemployed people without income support, forcing impossible decisions on food and rent. Non-English speaking pacific island New Zealand citizens unable to access English classes, entrenching disadvantage and sowing the seeds of future social discord.

Now we see the winding back of eligibility. This latest bill removes protected status for a new form of support, potentially impacting a group of up to 300,000 people who were previously assured of their place in Australian society. This likely sets a precedent for future eligibility requirements and threatens, in a period of budget uncertainty, to unwind previously provided support.

This is not the type of policy most Australians would imagine when thinking about immigration. Diversity, multiculturalism and a country transformed from 1900 is the very best our country has to offer.

This penny pinching language from the Abbott government, excluding long-term residents from the rights and support the rest of us enjoy, has no place in Australia. Over the long-term, as the number of people from New Zealand living in Australia continues to grow, a future government will be forced to address these issues. Until then, a tiered support system where exclusion becomes more common is the new norm.

[Edit: The bill in question has not been debated yet in the Parliament. Therefore any opponents of measures and exclusions like those outlined above should get in touch with MPs and Senators. This is especially true for Senators from the ALP and the Greens, and Independents such as Nick Xenophon (SA) and John Madigan (VIC), as the government do not hold a majority to pass legislation. You can contact Senators through this link – http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/find-a-senate-member-by-a-z.htm]

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One thought on “An unfortunate precedent: Support excluded to New Zealand citizens living in Australia

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