Monday, April 24, 2023

Chris Trotter: Sweetening The Deal: Why Are The Aussies Suddenly Being Nice To Their Kiwi Mates?

Let's get something straight, right from the start, Australia is still discriminating against New Zealanders. They’re making it a lot quicker and easier for Kiwis to become Aussie citizens, which is great, so – “Thanks, Cobber!” – but, that’s all they’re doing.

An Aussie, crossing the Tasman, is guaranteed instant residence here and can apply for permanent resident status after just two years. Permanent residents, in New Zealand, get to enjoy pretty much the same rights and privileges as full New Zealand citizens. They can vote, they have full access to health and education services, they can get the dole. About the only thing a permanent resident can’t do is stand for public office. That right is reserved for citizens alone.

When the new regime announced by Australia’s Labor PM, Anthony Albanese, on 21 April 2023 comes into effect on 1 July, however, a Kiwi crossing the Tasman will still not be allowed to vote or access much of the Lucky Country’s education, health and welfare services. Yes, after four years, and providing they keep their nose clean, Kiwis will become eligible for Australian citizenship. But, until that threshold is reached, New Zealanders across the ditch will continue to remain worse off than their Australian counterparts over here.

To understand why the Australians moved away from the full reciprocation of benefits provided for in the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement of 1973, it is necessary to refresh our historical memories.

In February 2001, the conservative Australian government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, was struggling to turn back boatloads of illegal immigrants desperate to settle in Australia. Sensitised by what he saw as these unrelenting challenges to his country’s borders, and conscious of the potential cost of what amounted to uncontrolled immigration from New Zealand, Howard strong-armed the New Zealand Government into a new bilateral social security arrangement with New Zealand, and amended citizenship laws for New Zealand citizens. The Special Category Visa (SCV) set up for New Zealanders in 1994, was transformed, practically overnight, into a bureaucratic mechanism for keeping Kiwis in a state of permanent impermanence. They could check-in any time they liked to Australia, but they could never arrive.

In late August of 2001, the Australian Government’s intolerance of uncontrolled immigration went up several notches in response to the MV Tampa affair. An important aspect of the political crisis kicked off by the Tampa was the Howard Government’s attempt to secure the urgent passage of the Border Protection Bill. This legislative initiative would have granted draconian powers to Australia’s border authorities to turn back illegal immigrants. Although rejected by the Australian Senate, the bill nevertheless revealed the lengths to which the Liberal and National parties were prepared to go to “Stop the Boats” and “Keep Australia Safe”. This drive for enhanced national security was super-charged by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Certainly, there is no disputing the role played by the Tampa and 9/11 in securing the Howard Government’s re-election in October 2001.

Nor should we forget the role played by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in the Tampa affair, one which left a bitter taste in conservative Australian mouths. While the world was condemning Howard’s brutal handling of the Tampa refugees, it was heaping praise on Clark for her offer to settle 150 of them in New Zealand. Aussie politicians and public servants saw this as yet another example of “the bloody Kiwis” making themselves look good at Australia’s expense.

The Bali Bombing of October 2002 only reinforced the Australian Government’s conviction that their draconian controls over immigration and Australian citizenship were justified. Thanks to Bali, the Bush Administration’s War On Terror instantly became Australia’s war. As far as Howard’s Government was concerned, Australia could not be too careful in determining who should become a citizen – and who should not.

The refusal of “the bloody Kiwis” to join their Anzac brothers in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, did nothing to dispel the growing conviction on the Australian Right that, in spite of all their protestations to the contrary, New Zealanders were no longer Australia’s best friends.

Best friends do not rat on their mates by legislating for a nuclear-free New Zealand. They do not dismantle the air-combat wing of their air force and generally allow their armed forces to become a bad military joke. Best friends do not boast about their “independent foreign policy” – thereby delivering a not very subtle rebuke to Australia’s decision to become Uncle Sam’s “deputy sheriff”. Nor do they suck-up to the Chinese so assiduously that Beijing declines to impose anything like the punitive economic restrictions it has slapped on Australian exports.

The role played by racism in Australia’s response to New Zealand immigration is difficult to overestimate. Most Australians will not hesitate to sing the praises of white New Zealand migrants, they are, however, considerably less voluble when it comes to Māori and Pasifika arrivals. These brown Kiwis are the ones disproportionately deported under Section 501 of the Migration Act. They are the “trash” the Liberal Party’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, boasted about “taking out” two years ago. The risk that naturalised New Zealanders from India, the Middle East and Africa might take advantage of the SCV rules to circumvent Australia’s strict immigration laws is another of the unacknowledged rationales for clamping-down on the Kiwis back in 2001.

How, then, to explain Albanese’s promised relaxation of the rules controlling New Zealand immigration? After all, Howard’s decisive victory in 2001 had convinced the Labor Party that taking anything other than a hard line on immigration policy was electoral suicide. Neither Kevin Rudd, nor Julia Gillard, both Labor prime-ministers, were willing to budge on the state of limbo into which the highly-restrictive 2001 SCVs had cast nearly half-a-million Kiwi ex-pats. What brought on Albanese’s Damascene conversion?

Could it be that Australia is simply hungry for New Zealand’s best and brightest? As in the rest of the West, shortages of highly-skilled labour are becoming critical in Australia. It is entirely possible that the harsh conditions imposed back in 2001 are making it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the talented Kiwis they need?

Poaching our best and brightest may not, however, be the worst of it. New Zealand’s refusal to come to terms with the new Indo-Pacific geo-strategic environment is bothering people in Washington, London and Canberra. It’s even beginning to bother some people in Wellington.

Helen Clark’s “benign strategic environment” of 20 years ago is long gone, and it is becoming ever clearer that New Zealand will very soon have to pick a side in the intensifying rivalry between the USA and China. New Zealand’s “traditional allies” want it to join the new AUKUS alliance – even if poking such a sharp stick at China entails abandoning the country’s Nuclear Free Zone status, and topples New Zealand into a profound economic crisis.

Is it possible that Albanese’s limited concessions on citizenship are intended to act as a sweetener for the wholesale diplomatic, military, economic and cultural realignments that New Zealand signing-on to AUKUS would portend? If so, then the aftertaste of Albanese’s Anzac ice-lolly may prove to be extremely bitter.

Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at


TJS said...

Does one have to have the loony toons from the US?

Robert Arthur said...

I supect Chris troubles his mind far more over such matters than our politicians do.