Photograph: Darren England/AAP
A “historic” deal that allows New Zealanders a faster path to Australian citizenship is the biggest change “in a generation” and will help the two countries forge even closer ties, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
Hipkins visited Australia on Sunday for talks with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese following the decision to give New Zealanders the right to apply for Australian citizenship without first becoming permanent residents.
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Prior to 2001, New Zealanders coming to Australia were automatically granted permanent residency, but following changes by the Howard Government, new arrivals were given a special category visa.
This allowed New Zealanders to live and work in Australia indefinitely, but placed limits on their access to Medicare and social assistance and required them to apply for permanent residency before citizenship.
The change to Australia’s Labor government, first reported last July while Jacinda Ardern was New Zealand’s prime minister, will mean some 380,000 New Zealanders living in Australia will have a faster path to citizenship.
Hipkins and Albanese attended a citizenship ceremony in Brisbane to mark the changes, which according to Albanese “have normalized the relationships that Australians [who are in New Zealand] have enjoyed for many, many years.”
“New Zealanders who are here in Australia, pay taxes, contribute to the economy should be treated with respect and that’s what this arrangement will do,” Albanese said. “Strengthen our ties, strengthen the relationship between our two great nations.”
Hipkins said the situation in Australia for many New Zealanders was “challenging” and the announcement would “make a huge difference”.
The pair also plan to forge even stronger ties between the two countries “in an increasingly complex world.”
“New Zealand, like Australia, has its eyes clear that there is a challenging strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Hipkins.
“We both want a stable, secure and resilient region. And New Zealand agrees with Aukus’ partners that the collective goal must be the delivery of peace and stability and the preservation of a rules-based international system in our region. We have a long and successful history of working together on these issues.”
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As Australia and New Zealand approach the four-decade trade deal on the closest economic relationship between Australia and New Zealand, Hipkins said he saw an opportunity for “further integration of our economies.”
But neither leader believed the changes would lead to a “brain drain” of New Zealand talent to Australia as both nations face labor shortages.
“We welcome all your smartest and brightest, but I’ve never met a Kiwi who wasn’t smart and bright and so the contribution that will be made has already been made,” Albanese said.
“I don’t think it will bring more people from New Zealand to come to Australia, it will just mean they will be treated better when they are here. As simple as that, and that’s the goal here” Albanese said.
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Hipkins agreed, saying, “This is basically a question of fairness.
“These New Zealanders live in Australia, they built their lives in Australia. And not being able to access the citizenship path, they have not even been able to access many of the public services they should be able to count on”.
Albanese said recent data show that an increasing number of Australian-born people are choosing to live in New Zealand, where the path to citizenship and access to public services was already fast-tracked.
Hipkins said he did not fear a mass exodus, as New Zealanders knew the value of their homeland.
“I am absolutely confident that New Zealanders who live and make a living in New Zealand will want to continue to stay with the home of the All Blacks, the very home of pavlova and lamington – there are many reasons to stay home in New Zealand,” he said.