Gerry Brownlee and his Aussie counterpart Julie Bishop meet after contentious student fee proposal

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee says the “warmth” of the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is to both countries’ benefit.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop have pledged to take expats’ needs seriously after discussing contentious trans-Tasman issues including the rights of Kiwi students.

Labour says Brownlee needs to be tougher, but Australia should also speak up if New Zealand is being used as a sneaky launchpad for migrants eyeing up Aus.

Brownlee’s trip to Australia was his first overseas engagement since taking over the job from Murray McCully​.

Given the close Anzac relationship, it could be easy to forget that both countries had separate national policies, Brownlee said.

But any points of difference in the relationship could be overcome, he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Brownlee said the ministers agreed that officials from both countries would consider how national policies affected the rights of expats on both sides of the Tasman.

Earlier this week, an Australian government proposal indicated subsidies for New Zealand citizens enrolling in tertiary education courses would likely be dumped, making them fee-paying students.

Brownlee said any contentious issues must be put “in the context of the very long relationship” between the two nations.

The proposal in Australia’s new Higher Education Reform Package followed a surge in “Australia First” rhetoric.

Bishop said she was looking forward to meeting Brownlee frequently for “frank and open discussions.”

Bishop said New Zealanders would actually have more chances to acess higher education and a “generous” loans programme in Australia.

New Zealand pathway to citizen arrangement stands: Australian Foreign Minister

“But it’s not a free service.”

The changes were made in the context of Australia’s federal budget, she said. The country faces deficits and its budget will be delivered next week.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Parker said it appeared Kiwi politeness was being taken advantage of, and the New Zealand government needed to “up the temperature” to get a better deal.

“When Australia’s standing on us, we have to respond.”

Parker said “diplomacy will always be important” but Kiwis expected their government to act firmly when New Zealand was ignored.

He said Brownlee “should make it clear to Australia that if Australia prejudices long-term residents…who by circumstances of birth are New Zealand citizens, then there will be a response from the New Zealand government that affects Australian interests in New Zealand.”

But it might be worthwhile asking if New Zealand’s immigration system was contributing to issues Australia had problems with.

“If the underlying concern of Australia is that New Zealand is being used as a back-door entry point for new migrants who come to NZ, then move to Australia, they should say that and discuss that, and we can perhaps remedy it.”

Peace and stability in the Pacific and bilateral efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan were also discussed at the Sydney meeting.

Prime Minister Bill English said on Tuesday he was unhappy with Australian policies that undermined traditions of equal treatment.

“We want a serious discussion with them about where they’re headed with this policy rather than announcements that are made either without telling us, or at short notice.”

The fees proposal followed recent volatility around citizenship laws, and debates over deportees and welfare benefits.

English said it was time for serious bilateral talks on the Anzac relationship, suggesting some serious soul-searching was needed.

English said many New Zealanders in Australia “don’t know just what might happen next.”

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations also voiced alarm at the tertiary fees policy change.

[Read the Stuff article].

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