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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Is the special relationship ending?

Australia seems determined to destroy the “special relationship” that has existed between that country and New Zealand since the disaster of Gallipoli. On Monday, mere days after Anzac Day, the day set aside to remember the sacrifices at Gallipoli and beyond, Australia stuck the knife into New Zealanders yet again.

Since 2001, Australia has been moving farther and farther along a road toward making New Zealanders living in Australia second-class citizens. Back then, they cut off New Zealander’s ability to become citizens and to receive welfare, including disability benefits, even though they pay taxes to Australia like all workers do.

In 2006, actor Russell Crowe, who was born in New Zealand but who has lived in Australia since he was a child, was denied citizenship because he had been outside Australia in 2001 working on the Oscar winning film Gladiator, and returned after the law had been changed. Here’s a guy who brought fame to Australia, and millions of dollars, but they still treated him like a second-class citizen.

In 2005, Australia cut off the ability of New Zealanders living in Australia to access student loans. Probably as a result, children of New Zealanders were half as likely to go to university as the children of Australians. In 2016, Australia did restore the ability of New Zealanders to get student loans.

On Monday, Australia announced that the children of New Zealanders will no longer be able to pay the domestic fees for university—despite Kiwis paying taxes to support the university system. Instead, their fees will go up A$8000 per year (about NZ$8700). Oddly enough, their taxes and levies are not being reduced.

The Australians say Kiwis will still be able to access student loans (gee, thanks…), and at least they won’t be paying as much as non-resident foreigners, who face a 500% increase, paying an average additional amount of A$33,000 (NZ$35,600) per year.

Worst, the Australian Government didn’t even have the decency to warn the New Zealand Government before announcing the change—and only days after Anzac Day. Two weeks ago, Australia made it even tougher to get citizenship, and again they didn’t bother to warn New Zealand.

In 2015, Australia suddenly decided it would deport some ex-criminals, no matter how long they’d lived in Australia, even if they’d arrived as a child, regardless of whether they had any connections whatsoever to New Zealand, and no matter how many years they’d lived cleanly.

Australia just started deporting, including people who knew no one in New Zealand, and had no idea where to go or what to do. Some of them were legitimate criminals, but because Australia gave New Zealand virtually no notice it was doing this, New Zealand had to rush through a law change to allow the New Zealand Government to monitor prisoners deported to New Zealand.

Add it all up, and it’s not really such a “special relationship”, not when one side disrespects the other so much.

By way of contrast, Australians who move to New Zealand can vote after living here one year and can get welfare benefits after living here for two years.

So, what to do? Well, New Zealand Governments—Labour and National alike—have expressed how darn cross they are and done nothing else whatsoever. There are some 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, their rate of participation in the workforce is higher than Australians’, yet they’re still treated like this, and the New Zealand Government does nothing about it.

This has got to change.

It’s time that New Zealand started changing the way Australians are treated here so that their citizens face many—but not all—of the same problems that New Zealanders face over there. One thing we mustn’t do is cut off all access to welfare, disability benefits in particular, because we’re better than that.

I also note that Australia has done this stuff under rightwing Liberal-National Coalition governments, not under governments run by the Australian Labor Party. The Coalition tends to want to pander to racist and xenophobic Australian voters, but the real reason they do this is money.

Australia collects the taxes and levies from hundreds of thousands of NZ-born Australian workers, but it provides them with very little in services. From a budgetary perspective, it’s a pretty sweet deal! And, they know that New Zealand governments won’t retaliate, so there’s no risk to Australians.

Any chance that Australia and New Zealand might one day be part of the same country is now well and truly dead, and the Australians are the ones that finally killed off the idea. There’s also pretty much no chance of currency union, either, which is a good thing for its own reasons.

The worst that could happen is that relations could deteriorate so much that the two countries treat each other like totally foreign countries. But Australia won’t want to risk the money it gets in taxes from New Zealanders living there, nor from Kiwi tourists visiting the country, nor from trans-Tasman trade. For New Zealand, it’s mostly about trade, and a bit of tourism.

So, both countries have financial incentives to plod along, and they’ll do so. Even when Australia once again sticks it to New Zealanders living there—and they absolutely will—nothing will change; the New Zealand Government of the day will express how darn cross it is and do nothing else whatsoever.

The real issue here is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are being treated very badly by Australia, and the Australian Government just doesn’t give a damn. Yeah, that’s a really “special relationship”, alright.

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