‘They can’t keep taking away our rights in Australia’

Only 45 New Zealanders were granted permanent residency [not including RRV] in Australia in the eight months to February this year. (Photo: Jeremy Smart)

Wednesday 10th May 2017

A hike in uni fees is the latest knock for New Zealanders in Oz, with some uncertain about their future in what used to be known as the Lucky Country.

Eight years ago, Laurie Brown moved to Adelaide from Masterton with his family.

He’s in his final year of high school and up until last week, he and his dad were excitedly planning what he’d study. He was weighing up a law and arts degree, or a law and politics degree, in Adelaide or Canberra.

Then the Australian government announced major cuts and changes higher education, including a decision to stop subsidising enrolments by most New Zealand citizens and Australian permanent residents.

From the start of next year those students will be charged the domestic full-fee rate, pushing the amount they would pay to study in Australia from about $7000 a year to about $24,000 a year.

One right New Zealanders are being given is access to the Australian student loan system – and the Australian government is predicting this will encourage thousands more to enrol. But there will be a 25 percent loan fee and loans are capped.

“The fees seem unfeasible … we don’t really have much of a choice but to go back.” – Laurie Brown

Laurie says plans have been “taken away from me”. Instead, he will be relocating to Wellington, where he has family, to study.

Australian citizens and permanent residents studying in NZ pay domestic tuition fees and can apply for government student loans.

The fees seem unfeasible … we don’t really have much of a choice but to go back.

“When the legislation came in … it was shocking. We weren’t sure how to react … It’s really heartbreaking.” [Please note: the legislation to increase university fees has not even been presented to Parliament yet!].

The new rules for New Zealanders wanting to study in Australia came off the back of recent changes to citizenship rules. Until now, people living in Australia could spend three years on any visa and one year on a permanent visa before applying for citizenship. Now the Australian government has announced it wants to change the rules so those wanting citizenship must spend four years on a permanent visa.

With these new rules, the way Laurie feels about Australia has changed. At a political level, he feels New Zealanders are discriminated against.

Jordan Zheng, the secretary of New Zealanders at the University of Melbourne, moved from Auckland three years ago. He also feels like Kiwis living in Australia are getting a raw deal

“I’m working in Australia, I got a job linked to the degree I’m studying. I’m starting to work in Australia, and I’m going to be paying taxes,” he says.

“I contribute to society, but I get no rights.”

While he will have completed his commerce degree by the time the changes come into effect, he’s shocked and disappointed by the announcement. Zheng says these sudden changes creates an atmosphere of anxiety.

“They can’t keep taking away our rights in Australia.”

Many other students who are equally shocked by the announcement, Jordan says. “The people who come to Australia to study, they’re very driven people … the legislation that [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull is proposing discourages them.”

He is especially concerned for those from lower incomes.

“I feel slightly protected against this, but people who have no means at all, it’s devastating for them.

“I don’t see why they treat us so badly.”

Official figures show that the number of New Zealanders granted residency in Australia has plummeted. Only 45 were granted permanent residency [not including those granted a Resident Return Visa] in the eight months to February this year, compared with a high of 2500 in the 2012-13 year.

Unequal rights

  • Australian permanent residents and those with New Zealand citizenship are classified as domestic students in New Zealand, and only pay local fees.
    Australian permanent residents need to have lived in New Zealand for at least three years before they are eligible to apply for Student Loans or the Student Allowance.
  • Under the recent education changes New Zealanders will have access to the Australian student loan system, but there will be a 25 percent loan fee and loans are capped.
  • Australians who have lived in New Zealand for more than one year continuously can vote, take part in a referendum, or sign a referendum petition in New Zealand.
  • New Zealanders must be Australian citizens in order to vote.
  • Australians can be granted New Zealand citizenship following a minimum of five years’ residence. They must also meet and English language criteria.
  • Under recent changes, New Zealanders living in Australia must meet character, income and English language criteria. They must be permanent residents for four years before applying for citizenship.

“If you were from a poor background, but had really excelled at school and had managed to get into a medicine degree, that loan would cover you for about 18 months.” – Dr Timothy Gassin, Chairperson, Oz Kiwi

Dr Timothy Gassin, chairperson for advocacy group Oz Kiwi, wonders what this might mean for the relationship between the two countries.

“I think with the citizenship and the tertiary education announcement coming in about a fortnight of each other, conveniently plonked either side of Anzac Day – real Anzac spirit there – it’s got people more annoyed than we’ve ever seen before.”

He’s also concerned about the impact this legislation may have on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He says for many, student loans won’t cover the cost of a higher education.

“If you were from a poor background, but had really excelled at school and had managed to get into a medicine degree, that loan would cover you for about 18 months.

So then you’d burn through the coverage of the loan program, and you’d have several years where you would have to pay $60,000 a year upfront.

“The last thing we need to be saddling young people with is huge amounts of debt before they’ve even got into the workforce.

Dr Gassin feels that the impact of the changes were underplayed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee during his meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

“You just think of the numbers of people affected. That’s an awful lot of people whose life plans have been completely turned upside down.

“We didn’t expect Brownlee to come over here and have a punch-up with Julie Bishop, but at least say New Zealand is unhappy about it.”

Dr Gassin is urging those who want to do something proactive to enroll to vote to ensure that Australians living abroad are still viewed as an important demographic. He says they will also be attempting to block legislation in the senate.

Jenna Waite-Leonard was 22 when she made the move from Auckland to Melbourne 10 years ago, drawn by the prospect of earning better money and warmer weather.

“If those changes had been in place there would be no way I would have been able to go to uni here.” – Jenna Waite-Leonard

Jenna, who graduated from Deakin University last year, feels she is one of the lucky ones.

She advises New Zealanders contemplating the move now to consider their decision: “Think really hard before you decide to pack up and come across … It’s sort of too late for me now, my life is here and I’m just going to have to gauge the situations as they come, but I would think very carefully about making that move.”

“If those changes had been in place there would be no way I would have been able to go to uni here. It wouldn’t have been possible. It would have been uprooting my life after eight years or 10 years of living here.”

Like Dr Gassin, Jenna says that these changes speak to a broader issue; New Zealanders rights in Australia.

“It’s been another slap in the face to all the people who are here working, contributing to the economy, being model members of society and yet, being constantly treated like second class citizens.”

“I see my life in Australia. What’s going to happen if they change the rules and regulations on the visa’s we’re currently on… It makes me feel a bit bleak about what my future might look like here.”

[Read The Wireless article].

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