24 Apr 2023

'Injustices have been reversed': Citizenship pathway reveal met with elation

6:02 am on 24 April 2023
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese  and New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins chat after a Citizenship ceremony in Brisbane.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins chat after a Citizenship ceremony in Brisbane. Photo: AFP / Pat Hoelscher

The Prime Minister has returned from Australia, celebrating a big win in trans-Tasman relations.

The Australian government has announced a pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders, restoring reciprocity to the relationship.

It was marked by a citizenship ceremony in Brisbane for more than 200 new Aussies, presided over by Chris Hipkins and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

But those getting citizenship at the ceremony were people who had already jumped through the hoops their adopted home had put in front of them. Some of them had waited more than a decade to finally get what they wanted.

Stella Sapwell said she had been in Australia for "15 years and one day" as she prepared to take her oath.

"I never thought never, but it felt very slow at times, and frustrating, but when you finally get there it's unbelievable," she said.

Claire Nelson said she had lived in Australia for 17 years. She said many New Zealanders had moved back home during Covid-19, but it made her want to pursue citizenship even more.

"So many Kiwis live here, and they've invested so much," she said.

The Australian government can expect many more ceremonies to come, after making the pathway easier for New Zealanders.

It undoes a tension between the countries that has lasted 22 years.

"From the New Zealand side, it resets the clock," Hipkins said. "It puts us back into the position where we wanted to be all along. And so we were very, very happy with the decisions made by the government."

Joanne Cox from advocacy group Oz Kiwi had flown to Brisbane for the event. She had met frequently with Australian Labor MPs to lobby for the change.

"We're just so amazed that we got our entire Christmas at once, it's incredible."

She admitted surprise Australia had decided to make the changes wide-ranging and retrospective, rather than a phased approach.

"They flicked a switch and everyone's equal again. The injustices have been reversed."

And in the spirit of trans-Tasman collaboration, the prime ministers risked getting sauce on their suits, and toasted their friendship with a community sausage sizzle.

"Always something that contains a very high degree of difficulty," Albanese joked.

'True friends'

Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese's day began with sombre reflection at a Brisbane cemetery, as they unveiled plaques for previously unnamed New Zealand soldiers who died during the two World Wars.

But as they laid a wreath and acknowledged the past, the underlying reason for Hipkins' visit to Brisbane was about the future: to celebrate reciprocity from Australia on citizenship rights.

The move means from July, around 350,000 New Zealanders can claim all the rights in Australia that Australians already have in New Zealand.

"New Zealand has been ahead of Australia, before today," Albanese said. "And you know what true friends do, and mates, as we like to use that term? They have equal relations. And that's the partnership that Australia and New Zealand have."

Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese.

Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

The announcement fulfilled a key election promise for Albanese, which he said was a "common sense approach", much in line with his earlier decision to relax the rules on 501 deportations.

The Australian opposition is concerned it will add more pressure to the country's benefit system, but Albanese said the move was simply about fairness.

"We welcome all of 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 is being made already. That's the truth."

The joint press conference was heavy on good-natured humour, playing up the 'not just friends, but family' relationship. But it was somewhat light on substantial detail.

Albanese would not say whether the government had costed the scheme, though his Home Affairs minister Clare O'Neil said it would be revealed in the upcoming federal budget.

Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese.

The citizenship ceremony. Photo: Giles Dexter / RNZ

The two leaders engaged in a good-natured tit-for-tat on who could claim who and what, now the barriers were removed.

Albanese joked about taking Russell Crowe, Crowded House, and was optimistic of swaying some All Blacks, while Hipkins said he was confident New Zealanders would want to stay in "the true home of the pavlova and the lamington".

In a more serious mood later, Hipkins expanded on his belief the move would not lead to a brain drain.

"The people that we're talking about here are living in Australia already, they've been living here for for years. I don't think that this is going to make a material difference to whether New Zealanders choose to come to Australia.

"They're going to be making those decisions based on a whole lot of other criteria. And I don't think that this is going to be one of them."

Hipkins said the move would ultimately benefit New Zealand as well.

"In the absence of being able to access Australian public services, the fallback position was New Zealand public services, which they ultimately weren't contributing towards, because the taxes were being paid here in Australia," he explained.

The two leaders said they had also discussed the economic environment, security in the Indo-Pacific, and the assistance each country provided the other during natural disasters.

Awkward about AUKUS

Albanese was asked twice about AUKUS, and the potential for New Zealand to participate in the non-nuclear pillar of the agreement.

He dodged the question both times, but Hipkins expected there would be ongoing discussions with Australia on the matter.

While he said there was no formal process to have a conversation on AUKUS, Hipkins said he was reassured of Australia's commitment not to non-nuclear proliferation, when it came to nuclear weapons.

"The decisions around the nuclear propulsion, those are ultimately matters for Australia. But we'll continue to work with Australia on issues around nuclear weapons non-proliferation. We've had a very strong working relationship on this previously, and I'm sure we will continue to do so."

Hipkins' whirlwind visit also contained a gala dinner to celebrate 40 years since the signing of the Closer Economic Relations agreement, and a meeting with Queensland disaster recovery and resilience teams.

He has also invited Albanese to come to New Zealand this year, when he had the opportunity.

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