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New Zealand challenges Joe Hockey over rights for New Zealanders in Australia

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Louise Kennerley

New Zealand has officially raised concern over “anomalies” for disabled children of New Zealanders living under Australia’s social service system with Treasurer Joe Hockey.

The unequal treatment of the more than 640,000 New Zealanders living in Australia has become an election issue in New Zealand ahead of the country’s September 20 election.

Mr Hockey has pledged to look at “some areas where we might be able to move” following a meeting this week in Wellington with Prime Minister John Key.

Labor leader Bill Shorten made a similar comment during a New Zealand visit earlier this month.

But a new political party that is attempting to win a seat for New Zealanders living in Australia has dismissed the comments as “spin”.

“Fairness isn't incremental - you're either treating hard working Kiwis that are committed to Australia fairly, or you're not. It is time for change,” said Grant Cheesman of the Expat Party of New Zealand.

New Zealanders are allowed to live and work in Australia - and must pay local taxes - but after a 2001 rule change are restricted from accessing most social services.

Mr Key said he had raised welfare entitlement anomalies with Mr Hockey, including the treatment of disabled children.

“If you’re a child that's badly disabled, born to New Zealand parents in Australia, then you are not eligible for state support till the age of 10 under the current rules, because you’re not a citizen and not a resident,” Mr Key said.

But he said the support begins after the child turns 10, even without citizenship or residency.

“That’s both very unfair on the child and on the parents ... and actually it would make sense for the child to get as much support as he or she needs on compassionate grounds.’’

But Mr Key was doubtful of any “massive change in the short term”.

A joint report by the productivity commissions of both countries had recommended policy changes by the Australian government to fix “access to certain welfare supports and voting rights” for New Zealanders in their new home.

But in May this year, the Coalition declined to adopt the recommendations.

“New Zealanders have virtually unrestricted access to travel, live, study and work in Australia,” the government said in response to the productivity commissions’ report.

The response highlighted their access to Medicare and education places, but concluded: “It is not expected that existing arrangements will be changed in the near future.”

Further comment is being sought from Mr Hockey.

- with Fairfax NZ

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