Saturday, April 22, 2023

Better Australia/New Zealand relations

Early today (NZ time), Australia announced a “pathway to citizenship” for New Zealanders living in Australia. This brings the rights of New Zealanders in Australia more in line with the rights of Australians living in New Zealand.

For decades, citizens of the either country could live and work in the other country without visas or permits, however, in 2001 a conservative Australian government created a “Special Visa Category” that New Zealanders need to have, but it was hard to become an Australiaqn citizen, or even a permanent resident, thereby blocking most New Zealanders from getting the rights that Australians had when living in New Zealand. New Zealand never did the same, despite the obvious provocation.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is in Australia for, among other things, observance of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Closer Economic Relations agreement between the two countries. He said, “Most of us know someone who's moved across the Tasman. They work hard, pay taxes and deserve a fair go. These changes deliver that and reverse erosions that have taken place over 20 years."

From July 1, a New Zealander who has a Special Category Visa, and who has lived in Australia for four years, can apply for citizenship, but they won’t need to be permanent residents, unlike other immigrants. They’ll also have to pass routine standards, including a character check, a language test, indicate an intention to stay in Australia, and they’ll have to attend a citizenship ceremony.

Australians living in New Zealand currently have to live here for five years (including at least eight months of each of the five years) before applying to citizenship, and they have to pass a character test and a basic language test. It seems probable that New Zealand will reduce the time to four years, in line with Australia.

Predictably, the leader of the conservative NZ National Party, and Leader of the Opposition, Chris Luxon, praised advancing the interests of New Zealanders living in Australia, but suggested that it could lead to a “brain drain” from Kiwis moving to Australia for better opportunities. However, Kiwis have always moved overseas for better opportunities, including ones that simply don’t exist here. That doesn’t by itself mean they’ll never return, as Luxon suggested, and many do move home to New Zealand. What he didn’t recognise is that there are a LOT of reasons someone moves from one country to another, and it doesn’t always means they’re rejecting their homeland—I’m an example of exactly that sort of person.

The Prime Minister said, "We want to make New Zealand a very attractive place to live, work, to raise a family, so that we encourage more New Zealanders to stay here, and so that we encourage New Zealanders who are in Australia to come home to New Zealand.” He added, "That said, it's always been a feature of our relationship that New Zealanders will, for a variety of reasons, relocate to Australia, and we want to make sure that they're treated fairly when they're there."

It’s also fair to note that this move is, as Luke Malpass put it in a piece for Stuff, “a late capstone to the legacy of Jacinda Ardern’s prime ministership,” because she had consistently pushed hard for better and fairer treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia. He added:
This is a significant moment for Hipkins, who gets to bring home the bacon, but even more it is a victory for Ardern. The former prime minister was very quick to make sure she crossed the ditch to see Albanese once he got elected prime minister last year.

This backed up a significant amount of work New Zealand diplomats have undertaken in Australia for many years, work that was set back after Scott Morrison’s surprise election victory in 2019.
This is a very important change, one that finally fixes the deliberate unfairness—some have even called it cruelty—in the way that New Zealanders living in Australia were treated. This will go a long way to repairing the 22-year-long strain in the relationship between the two countries who otherwise have so much shared history and culture. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called it “a blimmin' good day for Kiwis living in Australia,” and he’s absolutely right. It’s very, very good news.

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