16 Sep 2021

'Devastated' woman who could not return from Australia faces pension cut

From Checkpoint, 6:09 pm on 16 September 2021

A pensioner stranded in Queensland with serious health issues is struggling to pay for her medication and is desperate to get home to Hokianga before her superannuation is cut off. 

Checkpoint has heard from several superannuantiants who got stuck in Australia for various reasons when the trans-Tasman bubble closed. They could get their pensions suspended if they are out of Aotearoa for more than six months.

New Zealand woman Kathryn has health issues including cancer and chronic lung disease, but after a long time apart, among other difficulties, her daughter in Australia needed her. 

About a week after Kathryn arrived at her daughter's home, the bubble was shut. 

Kathryn's daughter Janie Mackey lives on the Gold Coast with her husband and three kids.

She told Checkpoint they have lived there about 11 years, and basically have no other family support. 

"I have a special needs son, so that also adds difficulty at the best of times. So it was a matter of, I hadn't seen mum in over 18 months. I was struggling a bit with my mental health and stuff like that. 

"So once those green flights were opened up, Mum jumped on board.

"I've struggled a few years with depression and anxiety, and the last three years have been really tough. I lost my dad three years ago, just with the whole Covid-19 situation, not being able to have that connection with family. It's been very, very difficult."

She said they were over the moon when her mother could travel over to help. 

"Just in the time that mum's been here we've noticed a big difference in my son. He's non-verbal, but he's trying so hard to talk now. It's been amazing having mum here."

But months after the closure of quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel, they are having trouble with her much-needed medication. Janie said it has been a nightmare.

When the border closed, Kathryn could not get on one of the immediate flights back as she had developed cold and flu-like symptoms. It was not Covid-19, but it prevented her flying.

"Mum came equipped with three to four months supply, because that was her intention - staying here until early September. 

"But there were mishaps with some of her tablets. The pharmacy for some reason only dispensed a month's-worth supply.

"When she realised she was running out of tablets, I booked her into our GP, and obviously not being under our Medicare system it's just been horrendous." 

She said a prescription for her mother cost $60, and an inhaler cost $86. 

"We've since found out that one of her other tablets they don't actually dispense in Australia.

"Mum's now panicking, because she's probably only got a month or so left of this particular medication. 

"We just can't believe that we're in this situation. With the travel bubble being opened it was like a sigh of relief. 

"Mum's so stressed out. I wake up every morning, I can tell she's been crying. It's just the uncertainty of not knowing if and when Mum will be able to get home.

"She contacted [Ministry of Social Development] just to inquire about the 26 week cut-off for her pension. She was basically told if she was outside for longer than 26 weeks her pension would be cut. 

"Mum was so distraught she just broke down on the phone."

Janie's mother Kathryn told Checkpoint she is very worried about the situation. 

"It leaves me in limbo. I'm devastated I can't get home."

Without her superannuation she has nothing, she said. 

"It's out of mum's control," Janie said. "It's not like she's choosing to stay here."

Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni declined an interview with Checkpoint, but in a statement said: "There is some scope available to extend New Zealand Superannuation for people who are overseas. This is considered on a case by case basis and is not an exemption."