14 Oct 2015

Is there a great trans-Tasman chill? That is the question

1:02 pm on 14 October 2015

What is this great trans-Tasman chill of which you speak? A weather pattern? Something to do with the rugby?

This has nothing to do with the rugby.

Then what?

Hundreds of Australia-based New Zealand citizens are being deported across the Tasman or being held in controversial detention camps after completing prison sentences.

The treatment of the detainees, many of whom have lived in Australia since they were small children, has prompted questions about the so-called "special relationship" and an assurance from John Key that a "blunt" message had been delivered to Canberra.

Isn't this last month's news?

Malcolm Turnbull, the man who toppled the onion-munching fellow a month ago today to become prime minister, arrives on Friday in New Zealand for his first foreign excursion in the top job. The issue, along with related matters concerning the status of New Zealanders living in Australia, will dominate talks, says Key.

Will Key "shirtfront" Turnbull?

Will he what?

You know, like the onion munching fellow said he would Vladimir Putin.

Unlikely. In various appearances this week, Key has said he doesn't want to do any of the following to Turnbull: "bully him", "badger him", "put him in an arm-lock" or "box him into a corner".

What will he do?

Make a persuasive argument to change the deportation threshold for New Zealand citizens. Key has an ability, according to one admirer, of "taking on and explaining complex issues and then making the case for them".

Which admirer?

Malcolm Turnbull. He has repeatedly cited his New Zealand counterpart as a model leader, and their similar backgrounds (humble beginning, merchant banking, centre-right social liberal leanings) make them kindred spirits.

So "great trans-Tasman chill" is overstating things?

Yeah, probably. Still, it does represent the biggest tension in the relationship for some years.

What was that about a threshold?

The Abbott government's toughening on immigration and purported terrorist threats included a law, which came into force this year, raising the threshold at which an offender is deported. Any non-citizen sentenced to 12 months' prison or longer can now be booted after serving their time. The law is retrospective, too, meaning those who completed terms some time ago may also face deportation.

The majority of those affected by the change, estimated to be about 1,000 people, are New Zealand citizens, who do not require Australian citizenship to live and work there. Many had arrived as small children and many have partners and children in Australia.

How did so many end up in detention centres?

An estimated 200 people have been placed there "while removal planning is finalised", or as they seek to appeal deportation.

Better than being in prison, presumably.

Wouldn't count on it. Around 50 New Zealand citizens are being held offshore in the Christmas Island detention centre, 2,600km northwest of Perth. One detainee, 29-year-old Ricardo Young, who arrived in Australia aged four, told media conditions were "worse than jail". The camp, which has been severely criticised, including by the Australian Human Rights Commission, is operated by a company that is no stranger to scandal.

Serco?

The very same.

Does this also mean hundreds of ex-cons flooding into New Zealand?

The government says new information-sharing measures mean deportees will not arrive out of the blue, but the prospect of as many as 1,000 people with convictions arriving "is really quite challenging", the prime minister says.

Convicted criminals notwithstanding, do New Zealanders over the ditch get the same rights as Australians?

The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement of 1973 established freedom of movement and labour for Australian and New Zealand citizens between the two countries.

That remains, but in 2001 the Howard government ended New Zealanders' entitlement to residency (a precursor to citizenship), which still holds for Aussies in New Zealand. Kiwis can still apply for residency, but on the same terms as an immigrant from anywhere, requiring, for example, that they work in a role where there is a labour shortage.

How many does the 2001 change affect?

According to one estimate from 2014, about 200,000 out of 650,000 New Zealanders in Australia.

What do they miss out on?

They are ineligible for a student loan - putting tertiary education out of reach for many children of New Zealand immigrants. They can't vote. They can't claim unemployment or sickness benefits, or federal government disaster recovery assistance.

What brought about those 2001 changes?

There were concerns about the volume not just of New Zealanders arriving, but also a "back door" for migrants who moved to New Zealand, became citizens and then hopped across.

How do Australians feel about New Zealand migrants?

On a personal level, usually good as gold, but there is a wider suspicion reflected in hyperbolic headlines over the years such as "Kiwi layabouts are flooding in" or "They're coming to Australia for our jobs".

Bit rich to accuse others of hyperbolic headlines given the whole "great trans-Tasman chill" thing.

Fair point.

Hasn't the vast Kiwi flight to Australia subsided?

Pretty much. It's roughly equal traffic both ways now.

The economy, stupid?

Pretty much. New Zealand's growth rate has outstripped Australia's since the second half of 2013. The slump in mining is at the core of it -that sector had of course been a magnet for New Zealanders.

What else will the two PMs discuss?

The situation in Iraq and Syria, economic issues more generally, and "no doubt we'll talk about the rugby".

But you said -

Sorry.

Sum up the situation in 25 words, please.

For the trans-Tasman "family" to go beyond rhetoric, and the TurnKey portmanteau to endure, something needs to be done for the second-class non-citizens of Australia.

Five words?

Unfair suck of the sav.