8 Feb 2014

Some Kiwi students to get Australian loans

7:58 am on 8 February 2014

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made a concession on student loans for New Zealanders living in Australia, but is not about to extend it to other benefits.

The announcement came after he met New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key in Sydney on Friday.

Under the proposal, New Zealanders under the age of 18 will be eligible for tertiary education or vocational training loans provided that they entered Australia as a dependent minor at least 10 years before applying.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (centre) and Minister Steven Joyce (right) list to Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott.

John Key, centre, and Steven Joyce, right, listen to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: AAP

Tony Abbott said he could not take credit for the decision, as it was made by the previous Labor Government before last year's federal election. But he said given it is so important to New Zealand, he will let the decision stand.

John Key said he had been worried that the new government might reverse the decision and pleased by the commitment.

"We welcome Australia's decision to ensure that some young Australians who are born to parents that are not residents or citizens here in Australia will now have access to higher education and student loans. We think that's a sensible and progressive step and we thank you for doing that."

Mr Key said it was in the best interests of both countries to provide educational opportunities for young people.

But Tony Abbott was not giving ground on New Zealanders' eligibility for other benefits, saying New Zealanders enjoy our unique privilege of being free to work and live in Australia without approval.

"I'm pleased that we extend this particular prerogative to our brothers and sisters across the Tasman, but knowing just how industrious our brothers and sisters across the Tasman are, when they come to Australia I expect them in Bob Menzies' immortal phrase to be lifters not leaners. Thank God, the vast majority of them have been and will continue to be - and that's as it should be."

John Key said there won't be any immediate change, but his Government will continue to press Australia to provide other benefits, including disability care to New Zealanders living across the Tasman.

A New Zealand woman living in Queensland said the concessions don't go far enough. Filipa Payne, who has three eligible children, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that Tony Abbott has merely thrown a bone and there has been no substantial efforts to deal with discrimination against New Zealanders.

Close partnership

John Key said New Zealand and Australia shared one of the closest economic partnerships in the world and it was critical that they continued to deepen the economic and business links between them.

Mr Abbott stressed the closeness of the relationship with New Zealand, referring to Mr Key as his brother Prime Minister. He said it was for that reason he invited New Zealand to participate in the G20 meeting of advanced economies in Brisbane later this year.

New Zealand businesses will be involved in Australasian Business Week as part of the build-up to the G20 meeting, a move Mr Key described as exceptionally generous because Mr Abbott could have restricted the event to simply promoting Australia.

Mr Key said the Australian prime minister had also agreed to refer to a tax review the idea of scrapping double taxation of dividend payments for trans-Tasman businesses.

The leaders also announced that international visitors will only need one visa to attend matches in the 2015 Cricket World Cup being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

NZ food ban matter for watchdog - Abbott

Access of New Zealand products to Australian supermarkets was given focus at the talks, after revelations last week that Australia's two big supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, were taking Kiwi goods off the shelves.

New Zealand food producers will have to take their case to watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in an effort to stop supermarkets banning their goods.

John Key raised the matter with Tony Abbott during their talks on Friday. Mr Abbot said his immediate instinct is to say that is a commercial matter, but had this advice for New Zealand businesses.

"Anyone who does feel that he or she has been aggrieved by competition policy here in Australia, they can apply to the ACCC and anyone who thinks that our competition policy needs to be improved can make a submission to the competition review which is going to be underway shortly."

Meanwhile, New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown said on Friday it has received complaints from customers. The company owned by Woolworths Australia has had a backlash from some shoppers on social media.

New Zealand's Food and Grocery Council said Woolworths and Coles are refusing to renew contracts with New Zealand suppliers for the sole reason that they are not Australian.

Meeting outcome embarrassing, says Cunliffe

Labour party leader David Cunliffe.

Labour party leader David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe says the Prime Minister should be embarrassed with the outcome of his meeting with Tony Abbott.

Mr Cunliffe said on Friday that John Key has got nothing out of the meeting and is showing his desperation by re-announcing an old decision. He said the deal to extend student loans to children of New Zealanders who are long-term Australian residents was made by the Government in June last year.

Mr Cunliffe said it is humiliating and not a good way to start the Government's relationship with the Liberal Government. "I think they have an inferiority complex when it comes to Australia."

He believed John Key should have been pushing to improve social welfare for New Zealanders living in Australia, who he says are treated as second-class citizens.