Gerry Brownlee meets Australia counterpart over Kiwi treatment

Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee has reaffirmed NZ’s strong relationship with Australia following talks with his counterpart Julie Bishop, after a difficult week for the Trans-Tasman relationship.

Nicholas Jones – NZ Herald

Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee has downplayed recent tensions in the New Zealand-Australia relationship after meeting with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop this morning.

After bilateral talks in Sydney, the two ministers said they had agreed to get a better understanding of each other’s domestic policies which affected expatriates.

But Bishop emphasised that this agreement did not amount to a review of recent changes which affected Kiwis, such as proposals to massively increase university fees.

Speaking at a press conference, Brownlee spoke warmly of the two countries’ relationship and his opposite, even referring to her as Prime Minister at one point.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Bill English said he was unhappy with Australia’s tertiary education proposals and the gradual erosion of Kiwis’ rights across the Ditch.

Brownlee struck a more conciliatory tone today.

“The discussions we’ve had today have been, in my opinion, quite easy,” he said.

Recent concerns about Kiwis’ rights in Australia needed to be seen in the context of the two countries’ “very long relationship”.

“Sometimes in our two countries we forget that we are separate governments and that we do have responsibilities to our separate populations.”

Watch: Gerry Brownlee-Julie Bishop press conference

“These are not things that cannot be sorted out or worked out or discussed in future.”

Ahead of the talks, Brownlee said he wanted to ensure that the Australian government “communicated sooner” about changes which affected expats, after three major changes were announced in the past two years with little or no notice.

Bishop said the two ministers had spoken about engagement between New Zealand and Australia officials “to ensure that we understand each other’s domestic policies”.

Bishop added: “They are not reviewing anything. They are continuing to discuss matters of mutual concern and interest between Australia and New Zealand.”

Earlier this week, Australia announced proposals which would require New Zealand citizens to pay full fees to study in Australia, beginning next year. While their fees will rise, they will also get access to student loans for the first time.

Bishop promoted the reforms, saying they would give New Zealanders greater opportunities to study in Australia. Her expectation was that more Kiwis would enrol at Australian universities, though she noted that it was “not a free service”.

Under the new university fee proposals, Australian permanent residents from all countries and New Zealand citizens will pay full fees; an average increase of A$8,000 ($86,200) to A$9,000 ($9,700) a year. About 6,000 New Zealanders are in this category.

Immigration researchers have also raised fears about what next steps could be, including whether Kiwi expats could be charged to have their children attend Australian state schools.

Some Australian states charge some skilled foreigners between A$3,000 and A$5,000 per child a year to attend public schools.

Asked by the Herald about concerns there would be further changes including making NZ expats pay to have their children attend school, Bishop said that was “speculation”.

In her opening statement, Bishop said the New Zealand-Australia relationship was “one of the closest that could exist” between two countries, and recent high level visits had underscored this.

The two ministers had discussed how to work together to promote peace and security in the region, and further afield in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She had recently returned from Anzac commemorations, and “over 100 years later” the transtasman bond remained.

“Gerry and I discussed a number of areas where Australia and New Zealand’s view of the world aligns.”

Brownlee said it was a privilege to be in Australia for his first outing as Foreign Minister.

“We have very, very strong trading relationships,” Brownlee said. “We are both very strong voices for free trade.”

[Read the NZ Herald article].

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