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NZ – Australia: Social (In)Security Agreement

New Zealand – Australia: Social (In)Security Agreement

Tuesday 27th Feb 2001 Richard Prebble Speech -- Governance & Constitution


I believe that this is the most significant foreign treaty that a New Zealand Government has signed, certainly since the closer economic relations treaty. The House should realise that the treaty signed by the Government on Monday basically rips up an agreement that this country has had since 1948. It would be one of the oldest standing treaties that New Zealand has, and to suggest that it is just a minor change of social welfare is to gloss over, or spin, what I think is a very fundamental change in what had been the cornerstone of New Zealand's foreign policy.

Our cornerstone has been the Anzac relationship. What this Government did yesterday was sign a treaty that will directly affect more citizens than any other treaty that the Government is contemplating signing. I think it also means that we are acknowledging that the Anzac relationship is not this Government's ambition, and that this Government is setting the country on a different course from Australia.

Let us have some facts on the table. The Prime Minister told us, in answer to a question, that there was no question of the residency of New Zealanders in Australia being affected. I do not know whether she read the agreement before she signed it, but at the heart of the agreement is that the New Zealand Government signed away the rights of New Zealanders to automatic residency in Australia. That has a legal meaning that only New Zealanders enjoyed in Australia. For New Zealanders who went to Australia on Sunday, from the day they arrived they had the right to vote. Other citizens going to Australia did not have that right. From the day those New Zealanders arrived they had to pay taxes, they had the right to work, and they received benefits like any other Australian citizen. This Government signed that away.

Government members say that Opposition members would have done that. Well, the ACT party would not have done so. Why would we not have? Because we would have pointed out to the Australians that if they look at free-trade agreements that exist elsewhere in the world--and the most famous would be the European Common Market--it is an accepted principle of free-trade agreements that they also exist within a free movement of labour, that people are able to move from country to country, and that as they do they automatically become entitled to the same benefits as anyone else in that country.

This Government signed that right away, and then said that we would have agreed to it. Absolutely not! We would never have agreed to that. The next question that we have to ask is why did the Government agree to a proposal that is fundamentally unfair. New Zealanders, from today, can go to Australia and work and pay taxes, but from today--thanks to Helen Clark's signature--if they become ill, they are not eligible for health benefits. I ask members opposite why they agreed to that. Let us ask the next question--how much money is involved? Helen Clark tells us that we should be pleased that she will save $100 million of New Zealand taxpayers' money, and I will come to that in a minute as it is a lot of money.

What John Howard says is that as a result of this agreement, Australian taxpayers will save a billion dollars. What that means is that those New Zealanders who are paying taxes, paying billions of dollars of taxes, are going to lose a billion dollars. When we look at the number of people involved, that means that there will be New Zealand citizens who, as a result of Helen Clark's signature, will be in deep, deep financial distress.

They are going to be ill, they are going to need hospitalisation, and they are not going to qualify. They may have worked, they may have paid taxes for a couple of years in Australia, and they may now head into a situation where they will not be assisted. Let me give a graphic example. We all remember the shooting at Port Arthur. We all know that New Zealanders were caught up in that. If a similar incident occurred, and the New Zealander who was shot had travelled to Australia after yesterday's agreement, that New Zealander would not qualify for any assistance in Australia. As well, thanks to Helen Clark's clause, if he had died and his widow returned to New Zealand, she would not qualify for any money here, either.

Helen Clark says that is a win-win agreement. How can anyone defend that? Of course, so far we have not heard her defend the agreement, and I suggest that that is because she knows it is an indefensible action. But let me go further. Helen Clark signed away the rights of New Zealanders to vote in Australian elections. Why did she do that? Why has she publicly agreed to, and defended, an Australian Prime Minister's decision to extract a billion dollars out of New Zealand taxpayers? She should have been saying to John Howard that if he did not want to have health benefits for New Zealanders, then he should not have been taxing those New Zealanders. We have taxation without representation, supported by a New Zealand Prime Minister who was not even prepared to make the case.

But why did the Prime Minister agree with it? I say it is for this reason. I do not believe that this Government--and Matt Robson and Helen Clark in particular--supports the Anzac relationship. These Ministers do not believe that New Zealand and Australia ought to be the closest possible allies, they do not think that we should be working together. Indeed, Helen Clark has been, from the time she has been Prime Minister, telling the New Zealand Parliament, and the people of New Zealand, that we can have a free ride at the expense of the Australians.

I say to the House that Helen Clark has said that we are not going to buy F-16s, even though the Australian Government would have liked us to have done. She said we are not going to have Orions, even though it has been an understanding between Australia and New Zealand that we would take on the defence responsibilities in this area, and she has boasted that we will not have frigates.

She has then tried to suggest, as did the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade today, that we could have a free ride and that the Australian Government would allow us to change unilaterally our commitment that we would fight together--a commitment that actually goes back to the First World War. It has discovered that we are an unreliable ally. If we pick up the Australian Defence Review, a copy of which I have here, the Australians are reported as saying that New Zealand's strategic perceptions and outlooks differ from Australia's in significant ways. That has been the position under this Government.

This Government has unilaterally decided that we are no longer going to be a reliable ally of Australia. It is well known that John Howard thinks that the New Zealand Labour Government is not only reliable, it is untrustworthy. He does not believe that he can rely on this Government in any way. He says: “Well, why are we having this relationship with New Zealanders”? I say to Helen Clark and Phil Goff that they had no mandate from the people of New Zealand to sign that agreement.

The ACT party would not have signed it. The ACT party has said to New Zealanders: “We do have strategic interests with Australia. We do have economic interests together.” We could have sat down with credibility, looked the Australian Prime Minister in the eye, and said: “We are in favour of a real free-trade agreement with Australia, and real free-trade agreements include the free movement of labour.” But of course this Labour Government could not do that because it has welshed on what were well-understood understandings. How much will the widow who loses her husband pay? Well, Helen Clark estimates that that will be $100 million. So I say shame on the Government. This agreement should never have been signed.

For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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