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NZ PM Chris Hipkins: Fast-track Australia citizenship for Kiwis won’t make much of a difference

Will Australia's immigration changes see Air New Zealand selling a lot more one-way tickets? <i>Photo: AAP</i>

Will Australia's immigration changes see Air New Zealand selling a lot more one-way tickets? Photo: AAP

New Zealand leaders are playing down fears the lure of Australian citizenship could bring about a fresh brain drain.

The Australian government has launched a massive shift in the country’s immigration regime, removing hurdles to Kiwi residents gaining citizenship.

The move has gone down a treat with New Zealanders, with about 400,000 believed to be eligible for an Australian passport when the new arrangements kick in from July.

With citizenship comes a suite of rights, including access to welfare benefits, public housing, student allowances and loans, and to work in public service roles.

Given Australia already boasts higher incomes and lesser cost of living pressures, might the change bring an exodus of Kiwis across the ditch?

“New Zealanders travel and live in Australia regardless of whether this change was made or not,” visiting Prime Minister Chris Hipkins noted in Brisbane on Sunday.

“I don’t think that this will significantly change the calculation that New Zealanders will make.”

‘No way to model that’

Mr Hipkins said the government had not commissioned advice on the likely migration trend, saying “there is no way to model that”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese did little to dampen those fears, saying “we welcome all of your smartest and brightest”.

The Kiwi economy can ill-afford to lose many workers.

Like many developed nations, New Zealand is hurting from skills shortages in many industries, with unemployment at 3.4 per cent and inflation rampant, in part, due to the labour shortfall.

In a nod to those woes, opposition leader Chris Luxon said Australia’s shift was “most welcome” while pointing out trans-Tasman disparities.

“It is right that Kiwis living across the Tasman should be entitled to the same opportunities and protections as those offered to Aussies who live here,” he said.

“It is a reminder however that many Kiwis choose to live in Australia because incomes there are higher and it is critical that we strive to make New Zealand an attractive place to live by growing the economy and raising incomes for all.”

Mr Hipkins, who will face Mr Luxon at a general election in October, agreed that was New Zealand’s challenge.

“We want to make New Zealand as attractive a place as possible for people to live, work, raise their family so that Kiwis will stay here and Kiwis who are currently living abroad will feel enticed to come home,” he said.

‘Coming here for jobs’

Joanne Cox, leader of advocacy group Oz Kiwi, has been pushing for the citizenship change for a decade.

She told AAP migration from New Zealand to Australia had always taken place, and the growing number of Kiwis calling Australia home without a safety net showed the migration pathway could not be denied.

“They thought denying Kiwis social welfare would make them stop coming to Australia but it didn’t because that’s not why the vast majority were coming here,” she said.

“They were coming here for jobs. They were coming here for family, for a better climate, to retire, for education, postgraduate study, for academic jobs.

“They’re coming to work in senior engineering jobs, to run businesses, all sorts of reasons. Not to get the dole. That’s been proven not to be the case.”

-AAP

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