Kiwi expats in Australia cautiously welcome citizenship breakthrough

Angela Bensemann hopes her children Toby, 7, and Jessica, 4, will get easier access to the disability support they need after the announcement of a pathway to citizenship for Kiwi expats in Australia. (Photo supplied)

19 February 2016

Sam Sachdeva – Stuff

Kiwi expats living in Australia have cautiously welcomed news of an easier pathway to citizenship – but have fears about who will be left behind along the way.

Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull announced a government amnesty, opening the door to citizenship for between 60,000 to 100,000 Kiwi expats living and working across the Tasman, following a meeting with Prime Minister John Key in Sydney.

The news has been cautiously welcomed by Kiwis who have been working and living in “the lucky country” for years, but without the same rights as Australian citizens.

The pathway to Australian citizenship has opened up for some Kiwis, but many expats will continue to be ineligible for social welfare. (Photo: PMO MEDIA)

Angela Bensemann, who moved to Australia with her husband Kirk in 2007, is among the thousands of expat Kiwis who have suffered because of their “second-class” status.

Bensemann’s two Australian-born children, Toby, seven, and Jessica, four, both suffer developmental disabilities; Toby has autism and Jessica has serious language problems.

John Key and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the breakthrough agreement on Kiwi expats following talks in Sydney on Friday. (Photo: PMO MEDIA)

While they are required to pay into the National Disability Insurance Scheme, they cannot access it until their children are 10 because they are not Australian citizens.

Bensemann said the news was “fantastic” for those Kiwis living in Australia who met the requirements, although not everyone would qualify, and hoped it could help her family to access disability support more easily.

Bensemann said her family had felt “discriminated against” for being unable to access the services their Australian friends could, despite making the same contribution to society.

“We live here, we work here, we contribute to the community, we pay taxes, we pay the levy fees, we essentially are Australians and this is our home now.

“To not be able to access services for your children when you are contributing to paying into those services is just heartbreaking – every child deserves the best start in life.”

I am let down

Queensland mother of two Tara Waghorn is one of those who may not qualify for the citizenship scheme.

Waghorn, who moved over to Australia as a 14-year-old in 2001, said she had struggled to support her children since leaving her partner and getting made redundant from her job in the mining industry last November, as she was not eligible for government assistance.

“I’m pretty disappointed really: I have been working and paying my taxes, I haven’t had to ask for anything before and to get shut down and told there’s nothing they can do … it’s a bit shocking.”

While the new policy would help her uncle and brother living in Australia, she believed she had not earned enough in the time she was working to qualify for residency and citizenship, and felt let down.

“I am let down, because I’ve been here 15 years and I’m not counted: I can’t vote, I can’t have any say in what happens.”

Winners and losers

Joanne Cox, spokeswoman for expat advocacy group Oz Kiwi which has made a strong push for expats’ rights, said the news was largely positive.

“They’ve recognised that there’s an issue in the way things are now, where some 200,000, 250,000 people are just simply excluded, and let’s say half of those people now have a pathway to citizenship, that’s great.”

However, it was clear there would be “winners and losers” from the announcement.

“There will be a group of New Zealanders who meet the criteria…but the downside is, anyone else, like if you’ve got a young family, stay-at-home mum, she’ll have been out of the workforce, anyone who works part-time, anyone who’s a casual labourer, they won’t earn enough to be considered.”

Political Reaction

Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said the announcement was a step in the right direction, but Key needed to work harder to restore the reciprocal rights that Kiwis once enjoyed in Australia.

“There is still a wide inequity in the way New Zealanders generally are treated across the Tasman including the fact we have no access to social services despite paying taxes there.”

The pathway to citizenship should also apply to all new arrivals, rather than only those living there already, Shearer said.

Green Party global affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said the news was positive, but that the pathway was not comparable to the benefits that Australians in New Zealand enjoyed.

“A real win for Kiwis would be to secure the same rights for New Zealanders in Australia as we give Australians living here,” Graham said.

[Read the Stuff article].

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