In all likelihood, Anthony Albanese and Chris Hipkins have quite different readings of the pathway to citizenship that has just been opened up for Kiwis who have lived in Australia for the past four years, or more. To New Zealanders, a historical wrong is being put right. For the Australians, their eye is on what future concessions they can now ask of us – especially on Defence spending and support for AUKUS – in return for this display of “generosity.”
It is no accident that this concession on citizenship has been announced on the eve of Anzac Day. Lest we forget though, we paid a huge sacrifice for the blunders at Gallipoli and on other Great War battlegrounds, in the name of imperial kinship and military alliances. With respect to AUKUS, New Zealand has to resist the pressure to (a) display our gratitude to Canberra, and (b) line up alongside the aggressive military stance against China that our traditional allies have chosen to adopt.
To repeat: we’ve already done our bit. For more than 20 years, we made all the concessions, and offered a generous pathway to citizenship for Australians living and working here. Yet thanks to the changes made by John Howard in 2001, Australians have been bludging on our generosity ever since, and treated us shabbily on the issue of citizenship. Kiwis resident in Oz paid taxes, but were only uneasy campers in the Lucky Country.
The decision announced in the weekend puts things right. apart from the matter of the 501 deportations. Thankfully the numbers of 501 deportations have steeply declined since Albanese came to power. Good. But again, that was the very least that a fair and humane government should do.
So now, we’re closer to all square. In 2023, we would best honour the fallen on Anzac Day by being more sceptical – in their memory – about the old lies about it being sweet to die for one’s country. At the very least, we should be at pains to retain our foreign policy distance from Canberra. Our less chest-puffing hostility to China is a hallmark of sanity, not a sign of our failure to be a team player.
Moreover, the cyber tech advances that the US and Australians are dangling in front of us an incentive to support AUKUS should be ours by right, thanks to our membership of the Five Eyes security alliance. What’s the point of being in Five Eyes, if we have to become a cheerleader for another alliance in order to obtain the latest advances in cyber technology? AUKUS offers us nothing but headaches, and a commitment to defence spending that cannot be justified on rational grounds.
Finally… When it comes to how the new citizenship rules will play out, the devil will be in the details. Yes, Kiwis who have been living in Australia on a Special Visa Category for four years or longer, will be able to apply for citizenship as from July 1st.
But as yet, we have no idea how the Australians will vet those applications, and what will be counted as disqualifiers. Will – for example – still paying off student loans back here, count as a negative? Will a poor credit rating, or a prior minor conviction – for cannabis use, unpaid parking tickets etc – also be a disqualifier?
And crucially…. What weight will be given to whether the talents of any given applicant talents are – or are not – in short supply in Australia?
Given the way, the criteria can be massaged, the one certainty is that it will be easier to clear any such hurdles while a Labor government is in power in Canberra, than it will be under any future Liberal-led conservative coalition. People need to apply early. Get in before the Murdoch media begins to rail against the tidal wave of incoming Kiwis taking the jobs and boosting the house prices of dinkum Aussies.
Footnote: We keep being told about how wonderful it is that young people are turning out in droves for the Anzac Day commemorations. Fine. But there’s an argument for including in the Dawn Service ceremonies– as an antidote to all the talk about the nobility of sacrifice – a reading of Wilfrid Owen’s 1918 poem Dulce et Decorum Est. That’s if we truly have the wellbeing of those “children ardent for some desperate glory” in mind.
Just a Khaki Soldier..
Since we’re all (potentially) Australians now, here’s an Australian song from the WW1 period. Interestingly, “Just a Khaki Soldier (And a Little Maid)” uses Australia’s trees and flowers to foster nostalgia for home… Man as good old gumtree, woman as clinging clematis etc. Until duty sets them free.