Julie Bishop smooths New Zealand anger over university fee changes

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has met with NZ counterpart Gerry Brownlee over concerns about university fee changes. (Picture: AP)

Claire Bickers – News Corp Australia Network

Julie Bishop has moved to quash an emerging spat with New Zealand over university funding changes that will hurt Kiwis studying in Australia.

The Foreign Affairs Minister met her New Zealand counterpart Gerry Brownlee in Sydney today for talks after NZ Prime Minister Bill English slammed the Turnbull Government’s university funding overhaul announced this week.

“We’re pretty unhappy about it,” Mr English had told NZ reporters earlier this week.

He demanded a “serious discussion” about the policy, which would see New Zealand students forced to pay the full cost of their university degrees, rather than announcements made at short notice without consultation.

In a joint-press conference following talks today where the two Foreign Ministers reaffirmed the deep ties between Australia and New Zealand, Ms Bishop said the scheme remained “pretty generous” for New Zealanders studying in Australia.

There were special arrangements for New Zealanders who had been in Australia long-term and all New Zealand students would still be able to access student loans and defer repayments until they began earning $42,000.

“Those New Zealanders who arrived here as children and have been here longer than eight of the last 10 years, will have access to government-subsidised places that are otherwise only going to be available to Australian citizens,” Ms Bishop said.

“In terms of our higher education loans program, New Zealanders across the board will have greater access to what is a very generous higher education loans program.”

Ms Bishop said she expected more New Zealanders would be seeking to study at an Australian university but it was “not a free service”.

She emphasised that the changes were made in the context of the Australian budget.

Mr Brownlee said he brought up “a couple of issues” that had emerged between New Zealand and Australia in recent times.

“These are not things that can’t be sorted out or worked out, or discussed in the future, and we have agreed today that officials from both countries will consider both of the countries’ domestic policies in relation to how it might affect our citizens living in those countries as we move forward,” he said.

But Mr Brownlee said they discussed in the context of our “very long relationship” and that sometimes “we forget that we are separate governments and that we do have responsibilities to our separate populations”.

He said it was quite reasonable to want to know more about how policy changes would affect New Zealanders living in Australia but he acknowledged the announcement had been made ahead of the budget.

“I appreciate it’s very difficult, if you are putting together a Budget, that you can’t necessarily go off and having international bilateral negotiations about what’s going to be in that budget so I think this is a bit of a one-off, and as people become more familiar with how that scheme is going to work in the future, I think the prediction made by Minister Bishop is probably going to be right,” he said.

Mr Brownlee said there would always be an issue about entitlements for Australians and New Zealanders living in each others countries but said “the reality is we are separate countries”.

[Read the news.com.au article].

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