Greg Boyed Interviews Peter Garrett
Sunday 18 November, 2012
Greg Boyed Interviews Peter Garrett
Musician-turned Australian Government Minister Peter Garrett takes a tough line on controversial rules for Kiwis: “Once you’ve done your time, then you get your benefits, and that’s as it ought to be.”
Garrett disagrees with the Australian Multicultural Council’s claim that the lack of support for Kiwis are making them “second-class citizens”.
Says people can make a decision based on the rules before they leave. “If they don’t want to come here because those are the arrangements in place, then they don’t need to do that.”
And, “If you don’t want to go Australia and you don’t like it, then why would you come?”
Garrett doesn’t think Kiwis are costing Australia socially, in fact he says, “I see them adding to our national life.”
He says if there are any issues, there are plenty of opportunities for the two governments to discuss them.
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GREG BOYED INTERVIEWS PETER GARRETT
Many of you may recognise this man as a musician, environmentalist or even activist. Now he’s in the top tier of Julia Gillard’s Government. Peter Garrett, now Minister of School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, sat down with me in Melbourne to discuss whether he thinks they’re being too hard on New Zealanders. I started by asking him how he’d describe the Australian attitude to the growing number of Kiwis living there.
PETER GARRETT – Australian Government Minister
Well, I think they’re seen as one of us but still with a bit of Kiwi accent.
GREG That said, 280,000 New Zealanders here, they’re on temporary visas, so they can’t get access to the social services and that. Is that fair, do you think?
PETER Yeah, like anybody else, whether you come from New Zealand or wherever it might be, there’s a system that operates here. Once you’ve done your time, then you get your benefits, and that’s as it ought to be.
GREG What sort of time should that be, because at the moment, a lot of them, even the ones who are born here sort of post-2001 don’t have those kind of access, benefits.
PETER Well, the system is in place to enable the orderly management of people coming from any country, including Kiwis, who we’re very affectionate to. So I think it works perfectly well. I don’t get people coming into my office to represent to me that this is a particular issue for them. I know it’s an issue generally. I know it’s one that’s been raised. But you know what the answer to it is? Australian ministers and New Zealand ministers meet regularly on this matter, including my compatriot who has responsibility for these issues. So there’s plenty of opportunity for people to talk it through. If there are propositions in place, then governments can consider them.
GREG Phil Goff from the Labour Party in New Zealand says all New Zealanders here pay their taxes, paid their dues, worked in countries, contributed to Australia, but they’re faced with serious difficulties. They’re left without the benefits, the social welfare benefits and so forth. He reckons it should change. Is it something that needs to be looked at a little more closely, do you think?
PETER Look, it’s not a pressing issue amongst people in my electorate, which include Kiwis who live and work in the eastern suburbs. Now, there’ll be some who probably have that as an issue of concern for them. Of course it’s something which can be discussed and governments can have additional yarns about it, but it’s not pressing itself into the consciousness of the people who I represent in the seat of Kingsford Smith.
GREG What would your advice be to a New Zealand family who are perhaps looking to up sticks and come to Australia?
PETER Oh, well, you know, come, by all means. I think the fact is that people who have either come for a short period of time or who have come and end up living permanently in Australia have made a great contribution to the country - whether it’s in business or sport. Music certainly. At the same time, people need to recognise that it’s not like New Zealand. They are still two different countries even though we’re very close, and we’ve done a lot of really important things together, but we’re still different. So that’s a decision that only people themselves can take.
GREG You said before once they’ve sort of done the time, they can be entitled to the benefits. What, in your opinion, is the time? How long should the time be?
PETER I think the situation as it pertains now is what’s available to people, and if it’s going to be changed, then that would be a matter for discussion between the governments.
GREG It doesn’t work the other way round. Australians go to New Zealand, and they sort of take up citizenship there. They get rights to all our social services. How would Australians, perhaps, going to live there feel were they taken away and were in a similar situation for Kiwis coming here?
PETER Well, the answer to your question is that people know what the situation is. They know how it applies, and they make their decisions accordingly.
GREG A point that was made here - the Australian Multicultural Council says Australia is creating a permanent second-class citizen. Do you agree with that?
PETER No. I don’t think that’s true. I think the fact is that people for a variety of reasons decide whether they are going to want to come and settle, work, visit, tourist, learn in another country, and in doing that, the rules of engagement are set. People need to know what they are. If they don’t want to come here because those are the arrangements in place, then they don’t need to do that. Of course, we’re really close countries, and we’ve got closer economic relations, we share some common cultures, and we work and we visit one another, and we spend a lot of time together. But that’s really the situation as it applies, and if it’s going to be changed, it would be a matter of discussion between the governments.
GREG Should there be a quota?
PETER Look, the government’s got its policy in place. Clearly, it’s one which we think is the right policy to deal with questions of both visitation, permanent residents and the like.
GREG What about social costs, Peter? What about, sort of, further down the line if you’ve got these kids who can’t get access to perhaps funding for tertiary education and social services but are going to live here permanently or certainly long term? The cost to Australia socially, is that something that is a bit of a concern?
PETER Well, I think we’ve got to look at it a little broader. What does each country bring to the other both by way of our intersections in trade, in commerce, in tourism, in culture, in family relationships? I mean, people marry Australians. New Zealanders marry Australians. Australians marry New Zealanders. People come for a short period of time, and they don’t think that they’re going to stay, and then they end up staying for longer than they expected. Others come and go again. I know people who have basically gone across the Tasman two or three times. They might spend five years here and two years there and five years back again. So in that sense, I think we’re dealing with a system which has got the framework in place. It may change over time, subject to demand and need and decisions the governments take. I think the overall thing is that I don’t see New Zealanders in Australia as a cost at all. I see them adding to our national life, and I see the same thing happening when Australians go and visit and spend some time in New Zealand.
GREG Certainly Australia has always been seen as they big brother, the lucky country, and, since the global financial crisis, one of the few countries in the Western world not to go into recession. So it’s always going to be an attractive proposition, isn’t it? New Zealanders are going to come here despite the fact they aren’t going to get full access to the social services.
PETER Well, I think the fact is that you’re right. We do have a well-managed economy. We do have employment rates which are at a healthy level, and there are opportunities in Australia for people. But there are opportunities which arise for people wherever they live. It’s not only people from New Zealand who see Australia as potentially a desirable destination. And I think, at the end of the day, that there’s a component of the personal choice someone makes. You know, it’s a pretty big thing to decide to leave your own country, the place where you grew up - you’re used to the language and the customs - and go somewhere else for a period of time. In making that decision, you lose some things, and you gain some things. And quite often it’s only the individual and their family who can actually make a call on that balance.
GREG It sounds like something - and I’m not putting words in your mouth here - but if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come here is what you’re kind of saying.
PETER Well, if you don’t want to go Australia and you don’t like it, then why would you come? You might visit and enjoy us for the place that’s got great beaches and fantastic ski fields. Maybe not quite as good as the South Island, but there you go. But at the same time, it’s a personal decision that people make. And you have a country which has got a proud democratic tradition. You have a country which has got deep culture, including your Maori culture. And you’ve got a country that has got fantastic prospects. Yep, you’ll have some ups and downs in economy, but it’s also a fantastic place to live.
GREG As far as the younger people who are here, as you say, parents and that since 2001 have decided to come here. You’ve now got kids who have done nothing but be the kids of people who have moved here. Should they be reconsidered and looked at in a slightly different light? Because they didn’t make the decision to come here themselves.
PETER I think you’re going to keep asking me the same kind of question, and I understand why you’re asking it. It’s absolutely a legitimate question, but we are clear that the way in which we constitute our immigration system is one which is there for Australia and the Australian Government to determine. We’ve got really close relationships with the New Zealand Government. There are many opportunities for these issues to be canvassed between the relevant ministers. I’m sure they have been, and I’m sure they will be.
GREG All right. Let’s jump off topic a little bit. You’ve had the royals here recently. We had them as well. I think they’re still in New Zealand, actually, as we speak. Can we see a republic in your or my lifetimes in Australia or New Zealand? Is that going to happen?
PETER Well, that’s… (LAUGHS) That’s a really good question. And, look, I think the fact is here in Australia, some of the steam has gone out of the republican debate. I think that’s a pity. I’m one of those Australians by generation, I guess, I consider myself a republican by birth. Certainly respect the royal family for what they’ve done and who they are, but I do believe in time that we need to be a republic. In our lifetime? Well, maybe in yours, mate, because you’re a little younger than I am.
GREG (LAUGHS) So fingers crossed. One thing I’ve got to ask and I’d be remiss not to ask you is do you miss being a rock star, Peter?
PETER Look, this is a question I quite often get in Australia. Short answer: no. I mean, remember, I was in Hamilton in a pub playing to bunch of people in the year 1979, which is the century before this one. I did it for a long time. I loved it. But I think what I’m doing now is hugely important to me, and hopefully we can get some good things done for the country as well.
GREG Getting your message across- You were such a political band. Getting your message across - you know, people saw you, people heard you. Is it tougher in the political environment, you know, surrounded by politicians, Canberra, you know, wherever you are in the country, to get those words across, to get that message across?
PETER Look, the two things are very different. Midnight Oil was a band of musicians that had songs that had words that had meaning, and then out it went. And wherever it landed, it was up to people, really, how they took it. I’m Minister for School Education and Early Childhood and Youth here, and I’m delivering big budgets to lift the education performance, to help early childhood and care, and I do that within the context of the political system which we have. So they’re really entirely different things. Of course it’s the same me, same values, but very different work.
GREG Peter Garrett, thank you for your time.
PETER Thanks, mate. Cheers.