New Zealanders have crossed the Tasman for several years; some came as children and regarded Australia as their home.
There are now 640,000 Kiwis in Australia.
In 2001, New Zealand capitulated to the wishes of Australia and agreed to restrictions on Australian citizenship rules and social security benefits.
Instead of gaining permanent residency on arrival as was the case before 2001, a Special Category Visa (SCV) was created that permitted them to work and live indefinitely, but with restrictions on voting rights and social benefits such as education, disability and disaster relief.
They must apply for citizenship before voting rights and full benefits are accorded whereas Australians arriving in New Zealand can vote after one year, receive full government benefits after two years and become citizens after five years.
The purge of 2014
In December 2014, Australia passed a new draconian law under Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 that permitted purging of visas of non-citizens with a record of 12 months or more of prison term inclusive of post-acquittal sentences.
They could be deported to their country of origin or resettled in other developing countries. About 40 New Zealanders are now held in Christmas Island and 200 throughout Australia. This has sent shockwaves across Kiwi communities both in Australia and New Zealand.
Among those deported to New Zealand included a 56-year quadriplegic who had resided in Australia for 36 years. He was jailed in 2012 for 13 months for taking controlled medicinal painkillers.
As the deportation increased one per day, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key protested “in the spirit of mate-ship” but his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull ignored it at their January 2016 talks in Wellington.
Kiwi inflow decreases
As the uncertainty of obtaining PR and Citizenship grew, droves of Aussie – New Zealanders left the shores and by the end of last year, the maximum inflow from New Zealand was superseded by China.
Against this background, Mr Key met with Mr Turnbull at the ‘Pyjama Party’ rendezvous in Sydney followed by the announcement of February 19, 2016 that allows New Zealanders to apply for Australian citizenship after five years of stay.
Circuitous New Pathway
The new pathway to citizenship applies to Kiwis with Special Category Visa (SCV) who have lived in Australia for five years or more from February 2001 to February 19, 2016.
It excludes New Zealanders who have obtained Permanent Residency during this period. They have to wait for 10 years to apply for citizenship.
Will this policy open the doors for tens of thousands of New Zealanders to become Australian citizens?
Far from it.
To be eligible, New Zealanders should have been working in Australia for five years or more at the Skilled Migrant Category rate of A$ 54,000 per year and applications can only be made from July 2017.
With these exclusions, thousands of New Zealanders who are performing menial, low-paid jobs and their dependants and those sponsored older migrants would be excised from the placid pathway. Their plight would remain in limbo until the Aussies in New Zealand and Kiwis in Australia are placed in an identical bracket.
That leaves two nagging issues that should be resolved to bring back the bonhomie between Australia and New Zealand.
The first relates to the successful appeals on their detention and/or deportation.
Mr Turnbull has conceded that “close to 50% of the appeals have been successful” so far but did not elaborate if such applicants would be reasonably compensated for the physical and mental stress and strain and the communal loss of face and fraternity on account of their detention/deportation.
If their appeals are successful, then they should not have been detained or deported.
Now, the net of purging visas has been widened to include New Zealanders and others who are caught in the unlawful activities of the ‘Bikie’ and street gangs.
On April 11, 2016, Henry Robati, a 19-year-old New Zealander, had his visa cancelled and opted to be deported to his home country for associating with the Afro-Pacific-dominant Apex gang of Melbourne.
Refugees who are incarcerated at Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island are destined to live an inhuman life without any hope of positive resettlement.
Mr Key, during his February 2016 visit had announced that New Zealand was willing to take 150 refugees on an annual basis for resettlement.
The deal was brokered in 2013 between the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Mr Key.
Australia baulked at the proposal. That exposed the naked trajectory of the Australian policy as the intention was to break the back of the refugees rather than allow them the option of starting a new fruitful life in a more congenial New Zealand.
Of the 1358 refugees detained in Nauru, 815 have been assessed as genuine refugees. These refugees, including 150 children still stagnate under gruelling conditions. Only five refugees grudgingly opted to resettle in Cambodia embracing a deal of $40 million aid and $15.5 million resettlement cost (unit cost works at $11.1 million per person!).
I have just returned from a visit to Southeast Asia where Cambodia is regarded as one of the least developed countries with a track record of corrupt practices.
All the five refugees have now reportedly left Cambodia.
The UN has described the ‘shifting of refugee responsibilities elsewhere’ as “a worrying departure from international norms.”
Mahendra Sukhdeo is a writer, researcher and author. He holds Masters’ degrees in Politics and Education. His book ‘Aryan Avatars’ is being printed by the University of the South Pacific. He now lives in Australia.
Photo Caption: John Key (right) with Malcolm Turnbull