Australia-NZ agreement highlights hypocrisy on refugees



At the end of March 2001, an estimated 450,000 New Zealand citizens — 2.3% of the Australian population — were visiting or living in Australia. Under various arrangements since the 1920s, there has been a free flow of people between Australia and New Zealand.

The 1973 Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement has allowed Australian and New Zealand citizens to enter each others' country to visit, live and work, without the need to apply for permission.

There is no outcry about this free movement of people, no media sensationalism, no talk of potential terrorists or the spreading of disease. New Zealanders are not condemned for seeking a better life or accussed of being economic migrants. If the recent arrival of a few thousand Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers is a "flood", then the flow of New Zealanders to Australia is a tidal wave.

While there have been changes to Australian legislation in recent years, the relatively free flow of people between Australia and New Zealand continues. It is not a one-way flow. According to New Zealand's 1996 census, 54,711 Australians were resident in New Zealand (1.5% of the New Zealand population), half having lived there for more than 16 years.

On September 1, 1994, amendments to Australia's 1958 Migration Reform Act resulted in the introduction of a legal requirement for all non-citizens lawfully in Australia to hold visas. This became the basis for the legalisation of mandatory detention.

As a result, the Special Category Visa (SCV) was introduced for New Zealand citizens. In practice, there was no change to procedures for New Zealanders wanting to come to Australia. They continue to need only a valid New Zealand passport to travel to Australia, and do not need to seek a visa before travelling. New Zealand citizens with medical conditions or criminal convictions are required to visit an Australian immigration office to discuss their entry to Australia before travelling.

At the time of presenting their passports for immigration clearance they are considered to have applied for a visa and, subject to health or character concerns, automatically receive an SCV, which is recorded electronically. Their passports are stamped, showing the date of arrival in Australia. This is the only evidence necessary to show they are holders of an SCV.

In the three years to June 30, 1999, only 142 New Zealand citizens were refused entry on arrival in Australia, as a result of their serious criminal records.

There is no need for a New Zealand citizen who holds an SCV to apply for, or be granted, permanent residence in Australia unless they wish to access certain social security payments, obtain Australian citizenship or sponsor family members for permanent residence. The SCV allows a New Zealand citizen to work in Australia lawfully as long as that person remains a New Zealand citizen.

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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