19 Oct 2015

Kiwi students 'treated like second class citizens'

11:13 am on 19 October 2015

Student unions and advocacy groups are frustrated with the Australian government's plan to make student loans available for long-term New Zealand residents, saying it isn't generous enough.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on the weekend that 2,600 New Zealanders in Australia would be eligible for the student loan from January next year.

New Zealand-born Jamie Coleman tried to do an online social work course in Australia several years ago, but said without a loan she couldn't afford the deposit or the weekly fees.

"It was a bit of a 'catch 22'. In order to study I needed to work to be able to afford to study ongoing.

"I needed to work each week so at the time I wasn't working enough hours to basically pay for the study - so the more I worked the less time I had to study."

Ms Coleman said she was worried that when her 16-year-old son goes to university he will face the same problem, and if a student loan isn't available then he will have to study in New Zealand.

New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces his Cabinet on 20 September 2015.

Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Getty Images

Timothy Gassin is the chair of an advocacy group for New Zealander's rights in Australia, Oz Kiwi, and said this legislation was first agreed on nearly three years ago, and should be in effect by now.

He said it had been a long uphill battle.

"Essentially it's been stuck in parliament. There's been a whole lot of playing around with the government who has tied it to other measures that are never going to get through parliament.

"So it has been announced and re-announced and re-announced again, and finally it looks like it might get over the line - which is good news."

Mr Gassin said it will be a small group who meet the criteria for a loan as to qualify people will have to have lived in Australia for at least 10 years and attended high school there.

However, he said it was still a step forward and it looked promising that this time around the legislation would go ahead.

"The Liberals will vote for it, Labour will vote for it and we know most of the cross benches are likely to vote for it too - so we should be able to cross the line without trouble."

The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) is disappointed with the legislation, saying it fell short of the support that New Zealand offered Australian students.

Its president Rory McCourt said New Zealanders studying in Australia deserved better treatment.

"There needs to be big action on this very soon and we're actually disappointed by all parties and all governments across the ditch in resolving these issues.

"It's not good enough for Kiwi students to be treated like second class citizens."

Mr McCourt said Australian residents who studied here were entitled to a full interest-free loan and weekly support after living in New Zealand for just three years.

He said for most people the biggest barrier to studying was the cost of living and he was worried that this legislation would not change the situation because it only covered course fees.

"It's still not enough to ensure that students have week to week support. A beneficiary in Australia receives far more support than a New Zealand student and that's simply not good enough."

Mr McCourt said some New Zealanders in Australia could apply for a six month youth allowance to cover costs, but no other benefits were available.

The legislation was due to be introduced by the Australian Government before the end of the month.

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