4 May 2017

Fears raised over school fees for Kiwis in Australia

8:06 am on 4 May 2017

Making New Zealanders in Australia pay to send their children to school is a real possibility, the government is being warned.

A view from behind of teacher aide and two little girls while rest of class taught  further into classroom.

Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Australia has announced it will start charging New Zealanders full fees at its universities - which will at least triple the cost of most degrees.

Now, education and policy researchers are warning primary and secondary school fees could be the next step in a crackdown across the Tasman on free public services for New Zealand migrants.

Most Australian states and territories already charge temporary visa holders from other countries between $3000 and $5500 to send a child to school - with the cost rising to up to $14,000 in ACT.

Australian National University immigration researcher Henry Sherrell said financial pressure on state governments to claw back their deficits, combined with New Zealand expatriates' lack of voting power, made it possible this fee-gathering would spread.

"There's definitely justification to be worried," he said.

"Governments can often act with impunity because there is no electoral backlash."

The New Zealand government has raised concerns with Australia about the prospect of school fees before.

Victoria University immigration researcher Paul Hamer said he had studied historical documents that showed then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard had to allay Helen Clark's fears about school fees, after his government cracked down on expatriate benefits in 2001.

The same documents showed economists expected that eventually state governments would bring in such charges, Mr Hamer said.

"The lesson for the government to take on board at the moment is that this was a fear not only that New Zealand economists had, that New Zealand officials had, but also something that the Australian officials had raised with New Zealand in 2000 as a likely consequence of those 2001 changes, so for that reason it remains a possibility."

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee is due to meet with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in Sydney this morning and Labour Party education spokesperson Chris Hipkins said Mr Brownlee must raise the issue of school fees.

"It's really important that Gerry Brownlee gets an absolute assurance that New Zealanders living in Australia aren't going to have their kids' primary and secondary school education charged at international rates."

New Zealand expatriate lobby group OzKiwi, however, said Mr Brownlee had already been soft-pedalling on the university fees in his comments so far, and expected he would not take Ms Bishop to task about this.

Mr Brownlee was travelling and unavailable for comment.

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