Ahead of the Australian federal election, 1 NEWS Australia Correspondent Ryan Boswell looks at the reality for New Zealanders of living on the other side of the Tasman.
Six years ago, Reg Miller put his four-year-old daughter into care after losing the house they were living in.
“I lost my job, which meant I lost my income and losing my income meant I lost the roof over our head and I had to give her up into the system because New Zealanders are not entitled to parenting payments.
“If I’d been entitled I wouldn’t have lost my house and therefore I wouldn’t have lost my daughter.”
Reg is still without a home and without a job six years on, living in a silver Ford SUV in Melbourne.
Holding up an All Blacks sun visor Reg goes through the contents of his car which he’s been sleeping in since January. Plastic containers hold tins of food, water, a camper stove and various items from his past that he can fit into the vehicle.
“Pretty much what’s left of my life,” he says.
Living out of a car wasn’t the plan when, in 2002, Reg packed up his life in New Zealand and took off across the ditch for work. Shortly after making the big shift, the company he worked for went bankrupt leaving him without any income and living on the streets of Brisbane.
It was through a friend that he was able to find security work in Victoria in 2003. Sixteen years he worked on and off in security work until he was injured on the job, temporarily seeing him unable to work.
“As soon as I was told ‘yup, you’re good to go back to duties’ I was let go by the company and ended up in my car again,” Reg says.
Reg is entitled to a one-off unemployment benefit payment for Kiwis, but is relying on Christian charities to feed, clothe and help him look after his general needs.
Not being eligible for benefits is purely down to poor timing for Reg. If he had been in the country prior to 26 February 2001 he would have been granted permanent residence on arrival.
Now, when New Zealanders enter Australia, they are granted the Special Category Visa, which is classed as a temporary visa meaning they don’t have the same rights and benefits as Australian citizens or permanent residents.
They can only apply for permanent residency after five years. In contrast, all Australians who go to New Zealand are automatically granted residence visas, and can apply for permanent residence after living there for two years.
Australians can vote in New Zealand’s elections after living there for one year, whereas Kiwis are not afforded that same right across the Tasman.
Most New Zealanders in Australia are not able to access social housing and welfare benefits, and also don’t meet the requirements to get student loans for tertiary education.
Basic healthcare is available for New Zealanders in Australia, but they miss out on the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme, even though they’re required to pay levies.
Reg has tried to apply for unemployment benefits but has been turned down every time.
He’s come to the conclusion that he isn’t going to get any help, despite having worked and paid taxes in Australia. “It’s not going to put food in my belly, it’s not going to put fuel in my car or register my car.”
Reg suffers from mental health issues and lost his last job back in January because of it.
He says he was abused in foster care back in New Zealand after he was taken from his family at the age of four.
“First foster placement put me in hospital in a coma.”
His treatment as a child back in New Zealand still haunts Reg and is one of the reasons he won’t return.
“The New Zealand Government raised me basically. Do I go back to a government which pretty much abandoned me as soon as I turned 18?”
With four children living in Australia, Reg has strong ties to his second home, keeping him sleeping in his car.
“Families are at a crisis point,” says Maria Kumar.
As a volunteer social worker in Melbourne she sees a lot of New Zealanders “doing it tough” in Australia.
“A lot come through our doors.”
One of the organisations she works with is Melbourne Tautoko Whānau, a volunteer support group which helps struggling families with anything from food to finding homes.
“They’ve got nowhere to turn after trying to get some sort of fixed income or trying to find employment.
“When they hit rock bottom they come through our doors. I’m talking about families who are actually at a crisis point where we pick them up and try help them through some of those barriers.”
Because New Zealanders aren’t eligible for benefits in Australia most struggling to get by are left completely without help.
Melbourne Tautoko Whānau has no funding from the Australian government but instead relies on koha from others, mainly Kiwi businesses in Australia, to keep them going.
Maria says a few New Zealanders have returned home from Australia, but the cost of even buying a plane ticket is out of reach for a lot of them.
“A few do return home, but I can say a lot of them are determined try and find a way to better their situation.”
Having lived in Australia since 1977, Maria has seen the changes come into place for New Zealanders living there.
It’s left some with rights and others without. Those who were already in Australia on 26 February 2001 can apply for citizenship, sponsor family members for permanent residence and access social security payments without being granted permanent visas.
The rules changed under John Howard’s Government, when New Zealand’s current High Commissioner to Australia Dame Annette King was a minister in Helen Clark’s Government.
The Clark Government and those that followed have expressed disappointment but all have decided against going tit-for-tat and haven’t imposed similar restrictions on Australians living in New Zealand.
“If a sovereign nation decides to make a decision then we have to put up with it, but we believe that the way to address this is a better pathway to citizenships,” Dame Annette says.
She’s focused on convincing whoever forms the next Australian government after the May 18 election to shorten the timeframe for New Zealanders wanting to become Australian citizens.
She says “something like 12,000 New Zealanders have applied and got citizenships” after having to jump through some “pretty high hurdles”.
“There is a threshold of income they have to earn, in the high $50,000, which can be quite hard for a lot of New Zealanders. It’s very expensive to apply for citizenship, it can cost thousands of dollars,” Dame Annette says.