THE plight of New Zealanders in Australia who aren’t eligible for welfare benefits was one of the first issues Foreign Minister Julie Bishop encountered on her visit to Auckland.
Ms Bishop had a meeting with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully which had been arranged so she could quickly underscore the importance of the trans-Tasman relationship to Australia’s new government led by Tony Abbott.
Their talks on Wednesday ranged across regional and international issues, but the first questions she fielded at a press conference with Mr McCully were about Kiwis living in Australia.
There are 300,000 New Zealanders on special category visas in Australia, paying billions of dollars in taxes, but who are denied some key benefits of permanent residency, such as disability care, welfare and social housing.
Ms Bishop gave no indication that was likely to change.
“I can assure you Mr McCully raised that matter with me, we discussed it at length,” she told reporters.
“The way we see it there is a unique arrangement with New Zealand that no other country has.”
Ms Bishop went on to explain the benefits New Zealanders gained from being able to live, work and study in Australia.
“The arrangement that currently exists was an agreement between the New Zealand and Australian governments,” she said.
“We obviously have budgetary constraints … we believe we have the balance right but we’re always prepared to listen to our friends in New Zealand.”
That means business as usual – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key didn’t gain any concessions from the previous Australian government during his meetings with former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Ms Bishop and Mr McCully covered bilateral trade and business, the situation in Fiji and the war in Syria during their meeting.
Australia’s new foreign minister pledged to nurture the relationship.
“We have no dearer or closer neighbour and friend than New Zealand … I wanted to come here early to underscore the fact that it should never be taken for granted.”