Prime Minister Bill English looks on during an Anzac Day dawn service at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on April 25. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
The traditional Anzac relationship is under threat from one-sided Australian policies including a proposed change impacting Kiwi students, Bill English says.
From next year, subsidies for New Zealand citizens enrolling in tertiary education courses will likely be withdrawn, making them fee-paying students.
Labour said the proposal, which followed recent volatility around citizenship laws, and debates over deportees and welfare benefits, showed English could not maintain the ‘bromance’ John Key established with Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull.
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 proposal in Australia’s new Higher Education Reform Package followed a surge in ” Australia First” rhetoric.
English said the Malcolm Turnbull government’s cashflow issues were probably a factor in the student clampdown.
“We’re pretty unhappy about it. It shows what happens when you’ve got government deficits … this is one area where they think they can make some savings”.
English said Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee would go to Australia within a week “conveying our unhappiness about it.”
But there was no point taking arbitrary action against Aussies in New Zealand, English said.
Constructive discussions would be better than a mutual arms race “to see who can treat each other’s citizens worse.”
Turnbull had always acted with goodwill towards New Zealand, English said, but recent developments were concerning, and the Australian PM did not mention the tertiary fees when they spoke on Friday.
For generations, people of either nation had effectively been treated like citizens in both countries, the Prime Minister said.
There was now “significant uncertainty about the Australian attitude towards that traditional arrangement.”
Concerns were also raised last month about more stringent Australian citizenship requirements “shifting the goalposts” for Kiwis to gain full rights across the ditch.
Recent developments were in contrast to the buoyant mood early last year, when an Australian government amnesty carved a pathway for tens of thousands of Kiwi expats to become citizens.
English said many New Zealanders in Australia now “don’t know just what might happen next.”
He said both governments needed “a discussion about the bigger picture and where they’re headed.”
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) also criticised the policy change.
“There exists a double standard when Australian students are entitled to domestic fees here … yet New Zealanders no longer will get the same entitlement in Australia,” said Jonathan Gee, NZUSA national president.
“New Zealanders will be left short-changed as a result of these changes, forking out thousands more dollars to study in Australia.”
Kiwi students’ access to student loans in Australia wouldn’t make up for the added cost of full fees, Gee said.
Labour leader Andrew Little said New Zealand citizens and their children abroad would “end up suffering” due to the education policy.
“It’s crazy. And I’m just surprised that our Government doesn’t seem to be making as much of an issue about it as they should do.”
Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the trans-Tasman discord was an indictment of English’s leadership.
The Australian government had “walked all over” New Zealand again.
Hipkins said English was “blindsided”, which was incredible given recent discussions with Turnbull about immigration.
Brownlee said he’d discuss the issues with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop.
“I don’t think it’s a tit-for-tat situation. What we have to understand is, how is the relationship developing?”
Brownlee believed about 8000 Kiwis were studying in Australia, 6000 of whom the policy would affect.
A few might benefit from the scheme, he said, as it would provide access to student loans.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters blamed Labour, National and “pro-mass immigration people” for the relationship issues, saying New Zealand had become a springboard for people to pour into Australia.
He said there was an “appalling situation where our people are second-class citizens” across the Tasman but Australia also deserved an apology.
[Read the Stuff article].