Tit-for-tat restrictions on Australian students counter-productive

Australia blindsided the NZ government over a tertiary fees issues affecting 6000 New Zealanders, prompting foreign minister Gerry Brownlee to visit his Aussie counterpart Julie Bishop in Sydney. (Photo: Reuters)

Oz Kiwi Opinion

We agree with The Press that tit-for-tat measures against Australians in New Zealand would be counterproductive.

Our understanding is that the New Zealand Government will not be going down this path.

That said, if last week’s policy announcement is implemented, it is hard to believe New Zealand would continue to grant Australian citizens applying from Australia (i.e. those who did not already live in NZ) subsidised university education in the long term.

The result of this is that young people in both countries would have a more limited choice of study options.

In going down this path, the Australian Government is being remarkably shortsighted.


Editorial

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

Prime Minister Bill English has conceded there is now “significant uncertainty” about Australian attitudes towards New Zealanders living across the Tasman.

The latest fly in the bilateral ointment is an Australian move to stop counting New Zealand citizens as domestic students in Australian universities and polytechs. It means that Kiwis there may soon be paying full international fees. Typically, this will increase the cost from $7,000 a year to more than $25,000.

Adding insult to injury, the New Zealand government was blind-sided by the proposal when it was announced in the Australian budget last week. It didn’t need to be handled that way.

The Australian move contrasts with the message and tone of recent meetings between English and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in which Turnbull rejected protectionism and “putting up walls” between countries.

It is now hard to ignore the feeling that Australia cares less about its trans-Tasman relationship than it might have done in the past. The move on fees is the latest in a raft of measures which have left New Zealanders in Australia worse off or caught short. Kiwis are now openly complaining that they are being treated as second-class citizens.

Actually, they aren’t citizens at all. That is the problem. Many of the advantages that New Zealanders took as rights in Australia were only privileges. And Australians no doubt feel those privileges can be withdrawn if it serves the purpose, and the budget, of the government in Canberra.

What stings is that the Australians didn’t even bother to consult about a matter which affects thousands of New Zealanders. Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee was dispatched to Sydney to find out what was going on. Cordial relations were restored too easily. Labour later accused Brownlee of “rolling over” and maybe there is some truth in that.

New Zealanders’ standing in the Lucky Country was hit hard as far back as 2001, when Kiwis lost access to welfare benefits and national disability insurance, even after paying taxes. More recent changes have seen New Zealanders with criminal records deported, even if they have been in Australia since childhood, and a longer pathway to citizenship for those Kiwis wanting that option.

It is small consolation, but New Zealanders are not the only ones being punished by a Canberra government, with a razor-thin majority, pursuing an Australia-first policy while more aggressive populism and nationalism spreads across the Western world. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi phoned Turnbull last week to express concern about the abolition of a type of visa mainly used by Indians wanting to work in Australia.

The changes affecting New Zealanders mean there is now a disparity in the way each country treats the other’s citizens. New Zealand allows Australians to vote (after a year), draw benefits (after two years), and will continue treating them as domestic students. Kiwis there no longer get a correspondingly fair suck of the saveloy.

It would be counter-productive to bring in tit-for-tat restrictions. There aren’t so many Australians in New Zealand, and it won’t help our universities, or our economy, to restrict the study options of the best and brightest of them.

But English and Brownlee should keep reminding their counterparts, Turnbull and Julie Bishop, that disrespecting your mates is a distinctly un-Australian thing to do.

[Read the The Press article].

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