Where does the trans-Tasman relationship stand?

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met with New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee in Sydney this week. (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

Analysis: We were almost a state of Australia.

Henry Cooke – Stuff

New Zealand was a part of the Federal Council of Australasia and sent a representatives to the conferences in the 1890s that eventually led to the establishment of the country we know as “Australia” in 1901.

In the end we decided to go it alone – a sibling within the British family, not a conjoined limb. Our representatives decided the Australian Federal State wanted too much power, and would take that power too far away from our lonely isles.

At the turn of the century New Zealand decided not to become a state of Australia. This cartoonist from the time thought we were making the wrong call. (Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: J-040-001)

So instead, we got what we have now – the close partnership, a special relationship between the best of friends.

This week our “mate” decided, with no warning, that they were going to charge Kiwis thousands of dollars more to go to university. It was the latest in a series of affronts to the friendship, so we decided to check in on the health of the actual relationship.

New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal. Scatz fl 1900: How we see it. The Ogre ‘Come into these arms’. New Zealand ‘Nay sir, those arms bear chains.’ (Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: J-040-002)

This cartoonist, however, saw the Australians as a bunch of convicts.

Travel and work

For many of us this is still the most important part of our relationship: visa-free travel. You can get on a plane to Sydney or Melbourne as easily as you can get on one to Auckland or Wellington, all you need to remember is your passport. It’s pretty much always been this way, even when the trip took a lot longer on a boat.

What citizens get on each side of the Tasman

Comparison chart courtesy of Stuff

Australians arriving here are immediately issued with a visa that gives them residency, while Kiwis arriving in Australia are immediately given a “special category visa”. Both of them give rights to work and stay indefinitely.

There are caveats: if you’re a Kiwi with a criminal conviction you’ll need to get written permission to enter Australia from their border force before getting on a plane. New Zealand also requires Aussies to be “of good character” – generally meaning no criminal convictions in the past five years.

Great mates rating: 9/10 would be best friends again.

Civil rights

New Zealand doesn’t quite give Aussies citizenship the moment they get here, but it’s not far off.

They can vote after living here for one year. They can serve in government jobs that require a security clearance. If they have kids here those kids automatically gain New Zealand citizenship. And they’re eligible to apply for citizenship themselves if they’ve been here for five years or more.

Things are slightly more complex if they get into legal trouble. If they’ve been here:

  • for longer than 10 years then we can’t deport them.
  • for between five and nine years and their conviction carries a five year or more sentence then we can deport them.
  • between two and five years and they are convicted for a crime that carries a sentence of two or more years we can deport them.
  • for less than two years then we can deport them for any crime where the court has the power to imprison them for three months or more.

This doesn’t mean that we will of course. It just means that we legally can. And Australians can appeal the decision.

Things are much much worse for Kiwis in Australia.

They can’t vote unless they become citizens or arrived before 1984. They can’t get a job in the government that requires a security clearance. If they have kids in Australia they aren’t automatically citizens – although they can become one if they reside their until age 10.

Getting Aussie citizenship for adults is complex, but new changes should make it a bit easier. Right now anyone who arrived after 2001 has to first get permanent residency – itself an arduous and expensive process similar to getting a work visa elsewhere – and then apply for citizenship. (If you got there prior to 2001 you’re likely already a permanent resident, making things a lot easier.)

From 1 July 2017 things for those post-2001 migrants will get a bit easier, with a new pathway for Kiwis living in Australia for longer than five years and earn at least AU$53,900 a year. There will also be “limited exemptions” to that income test for vulnerable New Zealanders.

Finally, there’s the well publicised mess Kiwis get into if they are convicted of any crimes.

A 2014 law means that any non-citizen – including Kiwis – who has ever served more than one year in prison (before or after the change) has their visa automatically cancelled. Older laws require that anyone with a cancelled visa must be detained or deported. The cancellation can be appealed and waived – but only by a the Minister, not by a judge.

Great mates rating: 3/10 ignoring each other at parties.


Australians in New Zealand can attend state primary and secondary school for free. They pay domestic – subsidised by about two thirds – university fees, and if they’ve lived here for three years or longer they are eligible for interest free student loans and allowances. It’s all pretty simple.

Kiwis in Australia can also attend state primary and secondary schools for free. They pay domestic university fees right now, but this week the government announced that new students from 2018 onwards will pay unsubsidised fees, which in many cases are up to three times as much.

Currently, Kiwis who arrived in Australia as dependent minors more than ten years ago are eligible for student loans. After the changes to domestic fees most New Zealand citizens will be eligible for income-depedent student loans.

Great mates rating: 6/10 smiling at each other on the street.

Benefits and healthcare

Emergency healthcare is free for Kiwis and Aussies in either countries.

Australians who have lived here for two years or intend to are eligible for subsidised care at publicly funded healthcare providers, as are their kids.

Australians who live here for two years are eligible for unemployment benefits, public housing, and sole parent support.

We have a superannuation scheme which means Kiwis can get an equivalent pension in Australia and Australians can get and equivalent one here.

Kiwis in Australia who are not yet permanent residents are not eligible for unemployment benefit, sole parent support. In some states they are eligible for public housing.

They can get subsidised or free healthcare through Medicare, which they are eligible for if they intend to stay in Australia for six months or more.

Great mates rating: 4/10 will at least fix your broken arm for free.

Some context

Before one gets to carried away with our inequitable our situations are, it’s worth noting that far more Kiwis live in Australia than the other way around. The number in 2013 was 600,000 – a good tenth or so of the total population of New Zealand citizens. This was the consequence of the so-called “brain drain” – a decades long trend of more New Zealanders moving to Australia than the other way around.

In recent years that trend has reversed, but it’s still estimated that less than 100,000 Australians live in New Zealand. That means their Government probably spends more on us than the other way around.

But full context requires more than just numbers. The vast majority of New Zealanders in Australia are paying just as much tax as their native-born citizens. Both countries are plenty rich enough to help each other out. Doesn’t best friends mean friends forever?

[Read the Stuff article].

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