Open Letter from Oz Kiwi to John Key on NZers in OZ
1 October 2013
The Rt Hon. John Key M.P.
Private Bag 18888,
New Zealand Dear
We, the undersigned Oz Kiwi committee members, are writing to you as we are deeply concerned about some of your recent comments concerning New Zealand citizens permanently residing in Australia and the attitude your government is taking to resolving the issues that they face.
Indeed, some of your comments of the last few weeks have not only been factually incorrect, but also potentially damaging to attempts to encourage Australia to change its policies.
A few weeks ago, you claimed that the New Zealand Government had agreed to Australia's policy changes in 2001 that resulted in New Zealand citizens who settled in Australia under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangements (TTTA) enjoying substantially fewer rights than all other permanent residents. This is entirely incorrect. The changes were not endorsed by the New Zealand Government of the day, are not in the bilateral Social Security Agreement, and were announced by the Australian Government as as series of 'Australian National Measures'. Similarly, New Zealand Governments, both Labour and National, have not agreed to subsequent discriminatory policies enacted by Australian federal and state governments.
Today, you claimed that most New Zealand citizens moving to Australia since 2001 had a good idea of what Australia's policies were and thus, presumably, had little cause for complaint. This again is absolutely incorrect. Australia provided grossly inadequate information to New Zealanders migrating there after 2001, giving people little idea of the true consequences of legislative changes. Indeed, this failure has even been recognised within the Australian Government, which has sought to improve the provision of information in recent months. That is to say nothing about the wholesale stripping of rights from New Zealand citizens after many had already been settled in Australia for some years, such as in the areas of education and disability services. No one, no matter how well informed, could have foreseen any of these unjust changes.
We have also noticed that your comments and those of other representatives of the New Zealand Government have focussed almost entirely on questions of welfare access. No doubt, this is an important issue, but it is not the most important one. This is fundamentally an issue of equality and opportunity. Not only are current policies placing New Zealanders in horrible situations if they fall upon hard times, but they are more generally preventing them from advancing themselves and their children and stopping them from playing a full and active role in Australian society. Questions of citizenship eligibility, voting rights, education access, and public sector employment are of the greatest concern to New Zealanders living in Australia, but are almost completely ignored in your public statements on this issue.
If the New Zealand Government cannot even get its basic facts correct or show a nuanced understanding of this issue, it is hard to see how it could possibly make a convincing case for change to the Australian Government.
Your comments about the attitude in which you will be raising these issues with Australia are also concerning. We have no doubt that to lecture Tony Abbott on your first meeting with him would be unproductive. However, it is apparent that you must make it abundantly clear that New Zealand will not accept the continuation of the current situation. For twelve years, New Zealand governments have taken a softly-softly approach to dealing with Australia on this issue. The result is they have achieved zip. Not only has there been an abject failure to have policies changed, but also a failure even to prevent things getting worse. The time for pussy-footing around this issue is over. Many, many New Zealanders who have committed to life in Australia are having their lives marred by harsh and discriminatory policies. Australia's current policies are an absolute disgrace and New Zealand should not put up with them any more. What self-respecting country would allow such a large group of its citizens to be treated in this way by what is supposed to be its closest ally?
Remarkably, we have heard on a number of occasions that it is precisely New Zealand's failure to press this issue that is the main reason that Australia is not changing its policies. It would seem that Australian politicians see no adverse consequences in maintaining the status quo, New Zealand being apparently unwilling to truly raise it as a matter of dispute and those most affected by it being unable to vote in Australian elections.
The inept handling of this issue has long been a matter of frustration to all in Australia who want to see current laws changed. This sense of frustration has only been heightened by the failure of your government to engage with those working for change within Australia. Many of our campaign members and supporters have tried to contact you and your government in recent months to discuss this issue. Many have received no response at all. Those who got a response have received form replies that often do not address their concerns or answer their queries.
We have a large group of highly-skilled volunteers who are dealing with this issue on the ground for hours every single day. Many of us know the ins and outs of Australian policies, their history, and their consequences backwards. We understand the public mood here in Australia. We know the range of views that exist within Australian political parties and some details of their internal discussions on this issue. We have much information that could be useful in deciding how to approach this issue with the new Australian Government and would like to share it with you.
Unfortunately, up until this point, in trying to engage with your government, we have felt like we are banging our heads against a brick wall. If there had been more engagement, some of your incorrect statements of recent times would have been unlikely to occur.
We are supposed to be working for the same end. Thus, we should, where appropriate, share information and experience. We have no hope of changing these laws if our messages are mixed and our claims contradictory.
Hopefully, we will be able to have a more co-operative and engaged relationship in future.
Yours sincerely, Timothy Gassin David Faulkner Laura Campbell Makhdoom Bhatti Emma Goodwin Joanne Cox