How many ways can you define a person? New Zealand citizens in Australia

Last week the ALP introduced a private member’s bill to extend HELP eligibility to some New Zealand citizens. You can read the bill and explanatory memorandum here.

This is just one example of how New Zealand citizens who are long-term residents in Australia are excluded from full participation and support in Australian society. Source: Wikipedia, creative commons

To demonstrate the ad-hoc approach government has towards this group of 500,000 people, the team at OzKiwi have combed through various pieces of legislation and highlighted how New Zealand citizens are defined as residents. Note the different definitions are substantial and contained in pieces of legislation that have a heavy effect on New Zealand citizens living in Australia:

New Zealanders Residency Status – Comparison of Legislation (Table compiled by Oz Kiwi)


Status of New Zealand Citizens

Health Insurance Act 1973

‘Australian resident’ is defined to include New Zealand citizens living in Australia.

Higher Education Support Act 2003

New Zealand citizens have been excluded since 2005 on the grounds that only Australian citizens and permanent humanitarian visa holders are eligible for HELP Loans.

Income Tax Assessment Act 1997

SCV holders are permanent residents

Migration Act 1958 ss. 30, 32 and 204

There are four separate, and inconsistent definitions that apply to New Zealand citizens:

  •   s30(1) – a permanent visa, due to its indefinite status;
  •   s30(2)(c) – a temporary visa, on the basis that Special Category Visa holders have a specified status (New Zealand citizenship) under s32 of the Act;
  •   Section 32 defines Special Category Visa as a class of temporary visas (also referenced in Regulation 5.15A of the Migration Regulations);
  •   s204 defines permanent resident as a person (including an Australian citizen) whose continued presence in Australia is not subject to any limitation of time imposed by law. (An SCV is an indefinite, albeit temporary visa, therefore captured by s 204 ).

Migration Regulation 1.03

‘Australian permanent resident’ is defined as the holder of a permanent visa. This excludes all SCV holders, even though they are entitled to reside permanently in Australia.

Migration Regulation 5.15A

Defines the Special Category Visa as ‘temporary visa’.

National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013

For the purposes of paying the NDIS levy New Zealanders are classed as residents under the Health Insurance Act 1973. But for the purpose of being entitled to NDIS services, a person must be an Australian citizen, permanent visa holder or a protected SCV-holder. Therefore, non-protected SCVs MUST pay levy, but cannot access the NDIS scheme.

Social Security Act 1991

s. 7 defines a ‘resident’ as an Australian citizen, permanent visa holder or Protected Special Category Visa holder. Therefore, does not capture New Zealand citizens who arrived post 26 February 2001, commonly referred to as ‘non-protected’ Special Category Visa holders. (Note: this is not a defined term in the Social Security Act or the Migration Act.) The current definition of resident was inserted by the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand citizens) Act 2001, replacing an earlier definition that included all SCV holders.

s. 861 (12) provides for a separate definition of ‘resident’ for the purposes of the Job Commitment Bonus. This definition is stated to have ‘the meaning given by section 7 (disregarding subparagraph 7(2)(b)(iii))’ – in other words, it excludes all SCV holders, including protected SCV holders. This definition was added by the Social Security Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Act 2014.

Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill 2015

1.23 A ‘temporary resident’ under the Migration Act 1958 would also include a New Zealand citizen, even though New Zealand citizens can generally stay indefinitely in Australia.

2.122 […] New Zealand residents would also be included in the exclusion of temporary residents from the prompt of choice as well so as not to cause confusion for employers.

Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

Inserts a new subsection 7(2AA) into the Social Security Act 1991 that would exclude permanent visa holders who are New Zealand citizens on Norfolk Island from the definition of a ‘resident’ and thus social security eligibility. Permanent visa holders of all other nationalities on Norfolk Island will be included in the definition of ‘resident’. This has the effect of placing restrictions on NZ citizen permanent visa holders on Norfolk Island that apply to no other group of permanent visa holders in any part of Australia.

For more information on advocacy efforts, see the Oz Kiwi website here.

The deliberate exclusion of Australian citizenship

On Australian immigration policy, it’s not often you see evidence which provides immediate clarity on an issue.

I came across this graph yesterday:

Australian citizenship by year of arrival

(Source: ‘The Unequal Treatment of New Zealanders in Australia’, by David Faulkner. With thanks to Paul Hamer for supplying the data, derived from ABS Census results)

This demonstrates one of the gross inequities afforded to one group of migrants living in Australia. Since 2001, many New Zealanders live and work in Australia yet are unable to become citizens. This is represented by the steep drop in citizenship rates above for New Zealand citizens in 2002.

Those born overseas generally become citizens, at least after a period of time. The ‘citizenship lag’, as seen by the sharp end of the blue line is due to the four year requirement to become a citizen. Those born in New Zealand have never been as enthusiastic for Australian citizenship as others however since 2001, have largely stopped becoming citizens completely.

To contrast, those arriving in 2004 are now majority Australian citizens at 56.4 per cent. Yet only 7.8 per cent of New Zealand-born arriving in same year have become Australian citizens. Over time, the blue line will likely continue to shift right and up while the red line will likely remain stagnant. This will grow the gap between the have’s and have not’s of Australian citizenship.

This is due to a new set of regulations established in 2001, placing New Zealand citizens into the same category as all other migrants in relation to gaining a permanent resident visa and a pathway to citizenship.

One of the arguments at the time of these changes was to place all migrants, regardless of origin, in the same situation. The reforms were sold as an appeal to fairness.

The main problem with this argument is the ignored context. Australia and New Zealand have an ‘open border’, allowing citizens to live and work in each country without restrictions.

The combination of an open border, and the provision of standard access to permanent visas, has resulted in a 13 year (and counting) period of time where many New Zealand citizens live and work in Australia without any hope of becoming an Australian citizen. This precludes access to a range of government support measures and creates a de-facto separation between those who can and cannot access Australian citizenship. In the most extreme cases, this means people who have severe health issues, or those who cannot speak English, are denied basic services provided to the vast majority of others who live in Australia. The appeal to fairness in 2001 was in fact a penny pinching measure designed to stem the flow of New Zealand citizens to Australia – an abject failure by any measure.

At the time, the ALP supported the 2001 reforms. It’s time to reassess these measures as they speak directly to the exclusion from Australian society of those who are here to stay. In simple numeric terms, 10,525 New Zealand citizens arrived in Australia in 2003 and still lived here on Census night 2011. More than a decade later, only 1051 are Australian citizens. This is unacceptable for a party that professes to be the best of both social-democracy and social-liberalism in Australia. The great social advancements of the last government – the NDIS in particular – are excluded to these people, despite living and contributing to Australia, in some cases for over a decade.

In his Australia Day speech this year, Bill Shorten said:

And the sooner we recognise the benefits that migration brings, the faster we will arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people.

One has the feeling he was talking about asylum seekers but this important evidence from the 2011 Census shows we have more than one area to focus on before we arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people.

An unfortunate precedent: Support excluded to New Zealand citizens living in Australia

Last year I wrote about the New Zealand citizens living in Australia, many of whom are stuck without access to permanent residency and without welfare rights.

At December 2013, there were 625,000 New Zealand citizens in Australia. This includes tourists and visitors. The number of people living in Australia is generally thought to be about 80%, meaning 500,000 residents.

Importantly, these people are split into two categories. New Zealand citizens living in Australia prior to February 2001 have are “protected”, those arriving after this date are “unprotected”. All of these people have the same visa conditions; full work rights and no time limit on residency.

The differences come from eligibility for government support. Protected citizens are generally provided the same government support as Australian citizens. The unprotected category are restricted from a range of services including:

  • Unemployment benefits
  • Single parent benefits
  • Youth allowance
  • Student loans (HECS, HELP)

This has been a fairly stable policy area since the 2001 changes. New welfare or support provisions have been provided to pre-2001 citizens while post-2001 citizens have been excluded, with the NDIS being the most prominent recent example (despite post-2001 arrivals being required to pay the income levy for the NDIS…).

Unfortunately this distinction may be changing.

A new bill – Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 – introduced to the House of Representatives on February 27, specifically excludes pre-2001 arrivals from new welfare incentive payments linked to labour mobility. The Explanatory Memorandum reads:

“The Bill provides that a person must be an Australian resident throughout the period of work on which they rely to claim the Job Commitment Bonus. The Bill provides that, for this purpose, Australian resident has its usual meaning in the social security law (i.e. a person who resides in Australia and who is an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, or the holder of a protected special category visa (SCV)), except that the Bill would exclude protected SCV holders from being eligible for the Job Commitment Bonus.”

Specific exclusion of protected New Zealand citizens from new forms of government support is the first time this has occurred (to my knowledge).

An advocacy organisation for New Zealand citizens living in Australia – OzKiwi – had this to say on the proposal:

“This bill may relate to only one government programme, but it sets a very dangerous precedent. The Federal Government is effectively claiming that ‘protected’ status is not absolute and no longer equivalent to holding a permanent visa – it can diminish the rights of pre-2001 Kiwis however and whenever it wishes. It is using its poor treatment of post-2001 arrivals to justify stripping rights from pre-2001 arrivals in the name of equality.”

There is no official figure on the number of protected and unprotected New Zealand citizens. A broadly used guestimate is 300,000 protected and 200,000 unprotected.

That is 200,000 people living and working in Australia, in some cases for up to 13 years, without the prospect of permanent residency or government support when needed. While there are many other temporary visa holders (students, 457 visas etc), the vast majority have a pathway to a permanent residency.

Unfortunately this policy issue will not simply disappear for governments. The detrimental effect on Australian society is compounded every year these welfare restrictions are enforced. High school graduates unable to go to university, holding back labour force productivity. Unemployed people without income support, forcing impossible decisions on food and rent. Non-English speaking pacific island New Zealand citizens unable to access English classes, entrenching disadvantage and sowing the seeds of future social discord.

Now we see the winding back of eligibility. This latest bill removes protected status for a new form of support, potentially impacting a group of up to 300,000 people who were previously assured of their place in Australian society. This likely sets a precedent for future eligibility requirements and threatens, in a period of budget uncertainty, to unwind previously provided support.

This is not the type of policy most Australians would imagine when thinking about immigration. Diversity, multiculturalism and a country transformed from 1900 is the very best our country has to offer.

This penny pinching language from the Abbott government, excluding long-term residents from the rights and support the rest of us enjoy, has no place in Australia. Over the long-term, as the number of people from New Zealand living in Australia continues to grow, a future government will be forced to address these issues. Until then, a tiered support system where exclusion becomes more common is the new norm.

[Edit: The bill in question has not been debated yet in the Parliament. Therefore any opponents of measures and exclusions like those outlined above should get in touch with MPs and Senators. This is especially true for Senators from the ALP and the Greens, and Independents such as Nick Xenophon (SA) and John Madigan (VIC), as the government do not hold a majority to pass legislation. You can contact Senators through this link –]

New Zealand Migration to Australia

This story in the Fairfax press about New Zealanders living in Australia should have started a discussion. Most people in Australia know a few Kiwi’s. However it might surprise that the most recent estimate put the total number at close to 650,000. Citizens of the two countries can live, work and stay for as long as they want without the need to even apply for a visa (technically, they are granted a temporary visa on entry).

This policy, in effect since the early years of Australian government and formalised in the 1973 Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, is one of very few that exist globally. I believe this is a good policy. Despite the rhetoric about the UK, the US and China, arguably Australia has more in common with New Zealand than any other nation on earth. Both nations are predominantly English-speaking, historically Commonwealth outposts with similar political systems. In the 1980s, both economies were restructured by progressive ‘third way'(ish) governments.

For a nation of 4.4m, the 650,000 citizens living in Australia add up to a significant amount of people. Yet current Australian policy is intent on almost pretending these people don’t exist. As the story in the SMH outlined, there are a litany of government-funded support programs that New Zealand citizens do not have access to, including basic homeless shelters and some employment programs. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s ‘Factsheet 17‘ outlines some more detail on this issue.

Basically, a New Zealand is just another temporary resident who can only become a permanent resident through the standard means – either via the family migration pathway (expensive and quite the queue), sponsored by their employer or through the ‘points-test’, brandishing their post-graduate education and Australian work experience.

The issue is that of those 650,000 New Zealand citizens in Australia (of which, about 510,000 are classified as Australian residents for work and tax purposes with the remaining short term visitors), a considerable percentage will never qualify under these visa schemes. We are talking about people from all walks of society. This includes the educated elite but also less educated, poorer New Zealanders who come seeking work or to live with family. Especially vulnerable are New Zealand citizens who come from Pacific-island backgrounds, some who are illiterate and struggle to speak English. These migrants do not have access to English language support programs that most permanent arrivals enjoy. This is despite English language skills being proven to boost earnings significantly (see this paper by Australia’s own Paul Miller and Barry Chiswick).

One of the most crushing aspects of this policy position is the impact on young adults. Children who migrate often have no choice in the matter. Yet New Zealand citizens living in Australia who graduate high schools do not have access to the HECS system and have to pay upfront fees (albeit at a significantly reduced rate than international students).

Without hyperbole, HECS is probably the single greatest higher-education policy in the entire world. Unlike in the US, those who need support most are able to receive it. Those who go onto earn good incomes can then repay some of the debt over time. Importantly, the policy enables inter-generational social and economic mobility, something that needs to be encouraged in a high-skilled economy and a nation that believes in limiting inequality. Yet if you happen to be a New Zealand kid who just graduated high school with your 97.5 university entrance score, you better hope your parents can stump up enough cash to get you through 3-4 years of university fees. Oh, and if your parents do have enough money to pay those fees, unlike all those other kids boozing on their youth allowance payments, you don’t qualify for any support payments.

Perhaps fair enough you say. I mean, surely Australian’s are subject to the same type of requirements in New Zealand. Not quite. If you’ve been living in New Zealand for over two years, in most cases, you will qualify for the same support as any New Zealander. Granted, New Zealand has a different higher-education funding policy but at least you won’t be working 30+ hours a week to pay your rent. These young New Zealand citizens came to Australia in some cases over a decade ago and are still not entitled to this funding. They are for all intensive purposes Australians and deserve better opportunities than to be treated as permanent-temporary residents.

All of these changes came about in February 2001. Before then, New Zealand citizens living in Australia had pretty much open access to government funded programs, including education, employment and other support services. The Howard Government, aware more and more New Zealands were coming to Australia, believed this broad set of changes to social support and permanent residency would change the intentions of people moving to Australia. At the time, there were about 400,000 New Zealanders living in Australia.

Source: ABS (
Source: ABS (

As the graph above on the right shows, the Government could claim some success in deterring more people to arrive (but let’s be careful, as we all know, correlation, causation etc). There was a strong dip in the growth of arrivals from 2001. Yet whatever victories were won in the early 2000s, they were erased by the increases in the second half of the decade. The stats above only go to 2009 and end at 550,000. In the three years from 2009 to 2012, an additional 100,000 people arrived.

Another part of the reform rationale was to increase the skills-base of Australia’s immigration program. Open border access for Kiwi’s doesn’t add to the skills basis of Australia’s migration program despite there being many skilled New Zealand citizens. Skilled migration allows increases in economic output and benefits Australians as well as migrants. In fact, Australia probably has one of the most beneficial migration programs in terms of per capita GDP in the developed world. By trying to remove the incentive for movement from New Zealand to Australia was motivated in part by the reform to generate a more highly skilled immigration policy.

At the end of the day there are only two choices. The current policy limbo cannot be allowed to continue. Permanent ‘temporary’ migration is the worst option available. This cannot be emphasised enough. Any growing community that is excluded from the mainstream needs to be integrated to ensure social cohesion. Traditionally, Australia has been a world leader in ensuring this doesn’t occur. Poorer New Zealanders citizens, especially from Pacific and Maori backgrounds, will challenge this tradition sooner rather than later if the status quo is maintained.

The first option would be to allow migrants already in Australia to stay and place them on a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship. In the process, opponents of Australia-New Zealand migration advocate for New Zealanders to be classified as any other nation and for migrants to apply through the standard channels. Bob Birrell has recently argued such a position. Birrell, an academic based at Monash University, is right to argue that Australia will continue to attract New Zealand citizens while a significant gap in GDP per capita exists.

The other option is to maintain the migration status quo (open movement) but return to allowing these migrants access to the full suite of social support (after a defined waiting period, currently two years for other permanent residents). This would also include a pathway to citizenship. Despite this emigration, the New Zealand population is not declining, it’s growing. The economic, social and cultural benefits of an open-borders policy with regional neighbours cannot be discounted. The challenges of the future – increasing globalisation and a Pacific region beset by climate change and instability – will be better met with closer relations with New Zealand. And there is no closer relation than open borders. There will be fiscal costs associated with reverting back to providing services however currently New Zealander’s have a participation rate of over 75 per cent in the labour market, meaning significant taxation gains for the budget bottom line. I see these benefits as vastly outweighing any potential costs.

I’m not a believer in things occurring by stealth. This should be a public discussion, more so than it is currently. I see public acceptance of New Zealand migration leading to an important foundation for a broader discussion of immigration in Australia.

Additional information;

These graphs are taken from this excellent Discussion Draft paper on cross-border movements from the joint Productivity Commission study into Australia-New Zealand economic relations.

People movements over time


Gaps in Income


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