Monday 24 April 2023

Sweetening The Deal: Why Are The Aussies Suddenly Being Nice To Their Kiwi Mates?

Welcome Back, Cobber: Is it possible that Anthony Albanese’s limited concessions on New Zealanders’ access to Australian citizenship are intended to act as a sweetener for the wholesale diplomatic, military, economic and cultural realignments that New Zealand signing-on to AUKUS would portend? If so, then the aftertaste of Albanese’s Anzac ice-lolly may prove to be extremely bitter.

LET’S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT, right from the start, Australia is still discriminating against New Zealanders. They’re making it a lot quicker and easier for Kiwis to become Aussie citizens, which is great, so – “Thanks, Cobber!” – but, that’s all they’re doing.

An Aussie, crossing the Tasman, is guaranteed instant residence here and can apply for permanent resident status after just two years. Permanent residents, in New Zealand, get to enjoy pretty much the same rights and privileges as full New Zealand citizens. They can vote, they have full access to health and education services, they can get the dole. About the only thing a permanent resident can’t do is stand for public office. That right is reserved for citizens alone.

When the new regime announced by Australia’s Labor PM, Anthony Albanese, on 21 April 2023 comes into effect on 1 July, however, a Kiwi crossing the Tasman will still not be allowed to vote or access much of the Lucky Country’s education, health and welfare services. Yes, after four years, and providing they keep their nose clean, Kiwis will become eligible for Australian citizenship. But, until that threshold is reached, New Zealanders across the ditch will continue to remain worse off than their Australian counterparts over here.

To understand why the Australians moved away from the full reciprocation of benefits provided for in the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement of 1973, it is necessary to refresh our historical memories.

In February 2001, the conservative Australian government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, was struggling to turn back boatloads of illegal immigrants desperate to settle in Australia. Sensitised by what he saw as these unrelenting challenges to his country’s borders, and conscious of the potential cost of what amounted to uncontrolled immigration from New Zealand, Howard strong-armed the New Zealand Government into a new bilateral social security arrangement with New Zealand, and amended citizenship laws for New Zealand citizens. The Special Category Visa (SCV) set up for New Zealanders in 1994, was transformed, practically overnight, into a bureaucratic mechanism for keeping Kiwis in a state of permanent impermanence. They could check-in any time they liked to Australia, but they could never arrive.

In late August of 2001, the Australian Government’s intolerance of uncontrolled immigration went up several notches in response to the MV Tampa affair. An important aspect of the political crisis kicked off by the Tampa was the Howard Government’s attempt to secure the urgent passage of the Border Protection Bill. This legislative initiative would have granted draconian powers to Australia’s border authorities to turn back illegal immigrants. Although rejected by the Australian Senate, the bill nevertheless revealed the lengths to which the Liberal and National parties were prepared to go to “Stop the Boats” and “Keep Australia Safe”. This drive for enhanced national security was super-charged by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Certainly, there is no disputing the role played by the Tampa and 9/11 in securing the Howard Government’s re-election in October 2001.

Nor should we forget the role played by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in the Tampa affair, one which left a bitter taste in conservative Australian mouths. While the world was condemning Howard’s brutal handling of the Tampa refugees, it was heaping praise on Clark for her offer to settle 150 of them in New Zealand. Aussie politicians and public servants saw this as yet another example of “the bloody Kiwis” making themselves look good at Australia’s expense.

The Bali Bombing of October 2002 only reinforced the Australian Government’s conviction that their draconian controls over immigration and Australian citizenship were justified. Thanks to Bali, the Bush Administration’s War On Terror instantly became Australia’s war. As far as Howard’s Government was concerned, Australia could not be too careful in determining who should become a citizen – and who should not.

The refusal of “the bloody Kiwis” to join their Anzac brothers in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, did nothing to dispel the growing conviction on the Australian Right that, in spite of all their protestations to the contrary, New Zealanders were no longer Australia’s best friends.

Best friends do not rat on their mates by legislating for a nuclear-free New Zealand. They do not dismantle the air-combat wing of their air force and generally allow their armed forces to become a bad military joke. Best friends do not boast about their “independent foreign policy” – thereby delivering a not very subtle rebuke to Australia’s decision to become Uncle Sam’s “deputy sheriff”. Nor do they suck-up to the Chinese so assiduously that Beijing declines to impose anything like the punitive economic restrictions it has slapped on Australian exports.

The role played by racism in Australia’s response to New Zealand immigration is difficult to overestimate. Most Australians will not hesitate to sing the praises of white New Zealand migrants, they are, however, considerably less voluble when it comes to Māori and Pasifika arrivals. These brown Kiwis are the ones disproportionately deported under Section 501 of the Migration Act. They are the “trash” the Liberal Party’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, boasted about “taking out” two years ago. The risk that naturalised New Zealanders from India, the Middle East and Africa might take advantage of the SCV rules to circumvent Australia’s strict immigration laws is another of the unacknowledged rationales for clamping-down on the Kiwis back in 2001.

How, then, to explain Albanese’s promised relaxation of the rules controlling New Zealand immigration? After all, Howard’s decisive victory in 2001 had convinced the Labor Party that taking anything other than a hard line on immigration policy was electoral suicide. Neither Kevin Rudd, nor Julia Gillard, both Labor prime-ministers, were willing to budge on the state of limbo into which the highly-restrictive 2001 SCVs had cast nearly half-a-million Kiwi ex-pats. What brought on Albanese’s Damascene conversion?

Could it be that Australia is simply hungry for New Zealand’s best and brightest? As in the rest of the West, shortages of highly-skilled labour are becoming critical in Australia. It is entirely possible that the harsh conditions imposed back in 2001 are making it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the talented Kiwis they need?

Poaching our best and brightest may not, however, be the worst of it. New Zealand’s refusal to come to terms with the new Indo-Pacific geo-strategic environment is bothering people in Washington, London and Canberra. It’s even beginning to bother some people in Wellington.

Helen Clark’s “benign strategic environment” of 20 years ago is long gone, and it is becoming ever clearer that New Zealand will very soon have to pick a side in the intensifying rivalry between the USA and China. New Zealand’s “traditional allies” want it to join the new AUKUS alliance – even if poking such a sharp stick at China entails abandoning the country’s Nuclear Free Zone status, and topples New Zealand into a profound economic crisis.

Is it possible that Albanese’s limited concessions on citizenship are intended to act as a sweetener for the wholesale diplomatic, military, economic and cultural realignments that New Zealand signing-on to AUKUS would portend? If so, then the aftertaste of Albanese’s Anzac ice-lolly may prove to be extremely bitter.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 24 April 2023.


The Barron said...

There has been a humanist wave in Australian politics. Albanese has calculated that this will prevent a conservative backlash from enfranchising a potential 700,000 voters, most of which are likely Labor voters. New Zealand has been associated with humanist governing, and aligning with us is good optics.

I can share your cynicism Chris, but when are sweeteners needed to make NZ fall in line? Our 'independent' foreign policy has always been conditional.

chris prudence said...

Chris I know this commentary is off the topic but I am concerned about the plight of the hard core of inveterates smokers in other words who are becoming increasingly hardened in their attitudes towards the smokes.Going without food is the main concern and I include myself in this group of people who are becoming increasingly desperate for some respite from the ongoing costs of smoking.The comment from te pati maori that they wouldn't care if cigarettes were one hundred dollars a packet seems quite callous to me as a smoker and a dyed in the wool one at that.The ram raids and school lunches are a couple of unwanted side effects.

Odysseus said...

New Zealand's grandstanding on the illegal immigration problem faced by Australia was morally indefensible. Turning back the boats ultimately proved to be the truly humanitarian response by stopping the people smugglers in their tracks. Our protestations of an "independent foreign policy" were also delusional nonsense, as much so as the claim to enjoy a benign security environment. Australia's concessions on citizenship for New Zealanders, while no doubt motivated by a degree of self interest - you may soon be hard-pressed to find a nurse left in our collapsing, racially segregated health system - are generous, given the imbalances in the flow of people between the two countries. As for AUKUS, New Zealand would be foolish not to sign onto the non-nuclear avenues for cooperation, especially in cyber=technology, given the threats that now abound in that domain. We should remember on this ANZAC Day that ultimately Australia has our back.

ChrisH said...

My gut feeling is that it is going to be politically impossible for the Govt to make any real moves toward joining AUKUS, because, with even people like Helen Clark speaking out against it and already at this early date, I sense the beginnings of a revival of the old-time, broadly-based protest movements of the kind we haven't seen in decades and which were mostly in one way or another waged in pusuit of a decolonising agenda.

I'm thinking of the protest movements against the war in Vietnam, French nuclear testing the 1981 Springbok Tour, and nuclear ship visits.

Perhaps even less so than in the past, given the greater numbers and self-confidence of Māori these days as compared to forty years ago, contemporary Aotearoa is simply not up for rejoining what some people call the "white Empire" in any crudely obvious way, as opposed to more subtle ways such as neoliberalism and Five Eyes.

And there's nothing more crudely obvious in that sense than AUKUS, mate.

This kind of protest movement, therefore, has a history that rhymes--even repeats--and may very well repeat still. Having said that, some sort of peripheral attachment to NATO might prove a lot less controversial if we had to be seen as doing our bit for the West along with the Finns and the Swedes, with the decided advantage that Europe and its main concerns are all on the other side of the world as far as we are concerned, more genuinely defensive as it would seem, and, better yet, most unlikely to involve any kind of a ding-dong with China, which is on the other side of the world as far as the Europeans are concerned.

I can actually see such a pivot to Europe happening in prophylactic terms, i.e. so that we don't have to join AUKUS, and in ways that would, curiously enough, also reflect the disposition of ANZAC forces in WWII whereby the Australians were mainly fighting the Japanese while we were mainly in Europe and North Africa. Another aspect of rhyming history, perhaps.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

They want our best and brightest, and we will replace them with people from generally poor countries. Depriving them of essential skilled labour, particularly in the health sector. Not especially ethical. Perhaps as someone mentioned a while ago, if we distributed a higher proportion of the country's wealth to its actual workers like Australia does, we might be able to keep them.
But alas, our major political parties are afraid of big business, which has far too much influence on politics. Australia also has a reasonably strong union movement, and I think it's been shown that countries with stronger union movements tend to have better working conditions and better wages.
Businesses in New Zealand are often too lazy to become efficient enough so that they can employ people at higher wages. So of course they lobby governments for easy access to cheap labour, which is often exploited as well.

Anonymous said...

The govt also subsidises labour via working for families, which disincentivises productivity gains because you can always hire more cheap/subsidised labour.

David McLoughlin said...

A timely historical recollection, Chris.

I was at that 2001 press conference held by Helen Clark and John Howard (I worked for the Dominion at the time, in its Auckland office). My clear recollection is that the reasons given included that Australia wanted to stop "back door" immigration of people from third countries entering Australia via NZ.

Australia had quite a generous immigration policy at the time, and welcomed many tens of thousands of people annually. We had had a non-discriminatory policy since 1991 when the merit-based "points system" began; however there was a feeling in Australia that people rejected by Australia could still get into NZ, stay for the three years then required to gain NZ citizenship, then get automatic entry and residency in Australia under the scheme allowing free assess for Kiwis (and free access for Aussies to NZ).

At the press conference, Howard announced that the new restrictions on Kiwis would take effect a few days hence. That announcement was followed by a huge rush of foreign-born NZ citizens getting on every plane they could for Australia before the deadline. At my own kids' inner-Auckland primary school, perhaps a tenth of the students and teachers (and their families) who were foreign-born NZ citizens, fled to Australia over the next few days. Some of my kids' best schoolmates have lived in Sydney ever since.

One thing I think this flight of people showed was that some or many of the people we were giving citizenship to were in fact using NZ as their "back door" to Australia, which was the Australian claim. Of course, ever since, anyone with NZ citizenship has still been able to go and live in Australia, but without the ability to vote, get higher education without paying, and much more. That has been patently unfair as we impose no restrictions on Aussies coming here.

I asked Helen Clark at that press conference if NZ was going to impose similar restrictions on Australians coming here, and she gave an emphatic "no." My recollection is that she accepted the new Australian policy without criticism, but I suspect she must have felt she had a gun to her head over it. She handled it well. At least we had the higher moral ground.

I was very proud when we accepted the Tampa refugees later that year, and very proud of our government for allowing them here. About a year later, the Tampa came to Auckland on its last visit with Captain Arne Rinnan as its master. He was the master who stood up to the Australian Navy at sea after he picked up the refugees from their sinking boat. I was enthralled watching at the Port of Auckland as the Tampa refugees who had settled here stood on the wharf cheering the captain. An unforgettable moment and one I treasure.

chris prudence said...

More on the smokes.Prices have increased ten percent a year for a decade.The cheapest cigarettes chesterfield blue or red mild or strong are $31.90 a packet of twenties.Some days I get through two packs a day.I live in a boarding house in ascot avenue remuera lodge with eighteen rooms in an old villa.Before I found this place in a hurry to move in I lived with my mum now deceased for ten years in orakei.I threw most of my stuff away in two skips before moving.I also sold over 300 books to royal oak traders for one hundred dollars.Most of the books were brand new novels fiction and non fiction.The collection probably cost around ten grand to amass.I got more for the bookshelves than I did for the books.My dad pays my rent of two sixty a week from chicago illinois united states via an anz debit visa account he has over here.I get roughly five hundred a week on the dole.That includes an accommodation supplement for the rent which I don't pay myself.Most days we have a few beers.We pitch in for the coffee and milk which can be expensive from the dairy and mobil garage.Sometimes we share dinners and bread for toast or weetbix in the morning.

sumsuch said...

I, like everyone, was happy about this about-turn. Sent off a compliment to his twitter, since it originated from Albanese's end. All great moments have sleight of hand inbuilt. The romance of Scottish history is utter shite -- we are the most pragmatic people ever. William Wallace didn't come in for a pardon from Edward l, unlike every other Scots notable, because he alone wasn't offered one. Enjoy this moment.

sumsuch said...

I congratulated the Italian but I think his crass cynical Ozzy advisors thought I was being them. It came from him and I'm grateful.