Time to give our Kiwi soul mates the vote

Give Kiws the vote
Illustration of a Kiwi by Joe Benke.

It’s time to right an injustice to the 640,000 New Zealanders who live here but can’t join our elections.

16 February 2014

Daniel Flitton – Sydney Morning Herald

By now, world leaders should really have learnt the lesson to avoid any and all mention of one another’s ”soul” when dishing out mutual praise.

George W Bush fell into this trap having gazed deep into the eyes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Tony Abbott produced an equally cringe-worthy moment this month when he described New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as ”not just as a brother” – grit teeth everyone – ”but as a soul mate”.

Awkward, much. Tony needs to watch out, that kind of talk sounds a lot like Kevin Rudd’s famously dorky ”programatic specificity” in a different guise. Besides, beating up on Kiwis is about the last acceptable prejudice in Australia.

Whatever possessed the Prime Minister to forgo mention of underarm cricket or make some crude remark about sheep is beyond me. Being the only Australian in a room full of New Zealanders is a sure reminder of our cultural and intellectual superiority, so when the boss Kiwi flies across the ditch, Australians are duty bound to point this out. From the PM down.

Don’t think those buggers will ever miss the chance. Remember, it was a New Zealand Prime Minister, Robert ”Piggy” Muldoon, who made the droll observation that New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQ of both countries.

Isn’t it about time we put this to the test? Our rich history of trans-Tasman teasing and rivalries aside, there is an outrageous injustice in the relationship between the two countries that needs to be fixed. New Zealanders living in Australia should have the right to vote.

Something like 640,000 people from New Zealand are welcomed to live here – work and pay tax, own property or marry locals – and yet denied a voice in how the country is run. Australian citizenship, rather than permanent residence, is the test for whether a person can vote in elections. But, as the rally cry goes, ”taxation without representation is tyranny”. Or think on it this way: why should an Australian citizen who lives permanently abroad get a say in civic life over someone actually residing here?

Granting citizens of a foreign nation the vote might sound radical, but surely participation in society is a better test than where a person happened to be born. It’s not like such a move is without precedent. [British subjects] still have the vote in Australia. Not all of them, but any who had their name on the local roll before Australia Day 1984 are entitled to take part in elections and referendums.

Beyond the £10 Poms, that includes some Kiwis and others from Malta, Canada, Nauru and even Sierra Leone – all with the right to vote without being Australian citizens.

Giving back the vote to New Zealanders invites an obvious question: Why stop there? My response would be to say it’s a good place to start. Especially given our national leader is comfortable describing his counterpart as a ”soul mate”.

People in Australia and New Zealand have been talking about an economic union since before Federation, but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

I have interviewed John Key a couple of times, and he once explained the reasons why a single currency between the two nations would cruel New Zealand’s crucial agricultural exports by removing the buffer between the Australian and New Zealand dollars.

But it shouldn’t be just about dollars. It is bizarre that European nations, with their history of bloody conflict, can put aside national boundaries to form a common union, and Australia and New Zealand cannot. New Zealand is a big part of the Australian story. We regularly cherry-pick Kiwi popular culture and claim it as our own, whether it’s Phar Lap or Russell Crowe, or the more profound ties of ANZAC. The two nations have chosen to develop independent political systems, but the links between people run far deeper than the obstacle presented by a flag or passport.

Popular mythology has Kiwis flocking to Australia to squat on the dole, but to the extent that overblown claim was ever true, the option disappeared more than a decade ago when the Howard government tightened welfare arrangements governing the two countries. A New Zealand citizen living in Australia can still draw benefits from Medicare, but for most everything else they are regarded in cold bureaucratic language as ”non-protected”.

Despite these limitations, trans-Tasman migration still saw more than 53,000 Kiwis move to Australia in 2012. Not everyone stays, and new rules have finally allowed New Zealanders who have worked and accumulated superannuation in Australia to send their retirement savings home. But there is still no option to recoup the tax paid in Australia on returning to New Zealand, so for the Kiwis who choose to stay, and enrich Australia as a result, they should get a say in how the money is spent.

In Perth last week, a group calling itself the Expatriate Party of New Zealand [the party is now deregistered] claimed it had the requisite 500 paid members to run candidates in the next New Zealand election. Their spokesman, Nick Teulon, made a very simple point: New Zealanders living in Australia are liable to pay the levy to fund Australia’s national disability insurance scheme, but[ cannot qualify] for its benefits. Granting access to DisabilityCare Australia would be a step beyond the vote, but it hardly seems fair to deny both.

It takes immense courage and special motivation to uproot and move abroad. For neighbours as close as Australia and New Zealand, it seems absurd to require a person to surrender a part of their identity to be allowed to vote in the community in which they live.

We’re old mates, after all.

[Read the Sydney Morning Herald article].

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