New Zealanders looking for work in Australia often wind up on the dole
Sydney — From across the Tasman Sea, thousands of New Zealanders think the lights of Sydney and other Australian cities look brighter and more promising than their own.
When they arrive on Australian shores, some find jobs quickly - often at double the New Zealand pay scale for similar jobs. But more and more New Zealanders simply wind up on the dole, finding Australia's employment picture is not much better than their own.
Australia's Labor Party opposition and some union leaders are calling for immigration cutbacks until the economy improves.
There's no point, they say, in immigrants coming to Australia and joining dole lines - particularly when the federal budget has been thrown off target by welfare payments already higher than expected.
There is mounting sentiment to include New Zealanders in the cutbacks. But New Zealanders - who have enjoyed unrestricted access to Australia - are angrily rejecting suggestions that they be treated like other aliens.
''Our input into your labor force has increased the quality of your labor in Australia,'' said Sir Laurie Francis, New Zealand High Commissioner in Australia. ''Realize your dependence on us and cut the cackle.''
He added: ''Why should we have to meet the same criteria as Brazilians or Koreans?''
Australian critics of unrestricted access to the country for New Zealanders maintain New Zealand and other newcomers take jobs Australians would otherwise fill, put local people on the dole, and soak up unemployment payments themselves.
Australia's economy is in poor shape, largely as a result of world recession. Inflation is running at more than 12 percent, unemployment at 9 percent (Federal officials project that will hit 10 percent by February.)
When Australia's economy was booming, spurred on by resources development projects, it was New Zealander officials who worried about immigration to Australia.
Planners worried about the impact of losing tens of thousands of young people whose education - paid for by taxpayers under New Zealand's welfare-state system - would not benefit their own country.
According to Australian critics, New Zealanders are among the young foreigners who have quickly become street-wise. They are accused of involvement in prostitution, drug-dealing, and petty street crimes.
Passports have been required for travel between Australia and New Zealand since last year - an effort to stem narcotics smugglers who use New Zealand as a staging post to ship drugs to Australia.
Some officials say it is not likely that New Zealanders will be restricted from free travel to Australia in the near future, but that support for such a plan is rising.
Ironically, the shifting views against New Zealand immigrants comes a time when the two countries are developing closer relations in other respects.
On Jan. 1, the Closer Economic Relations Agreement will slowly phase out protectionist tariffs on trade between New Zealand and Australia.
There are an 100,000 New Zealanders in Sydney alone. A high proportion of unemployed young New Zealanders in Australia live in cheap, run-down rental units near Sydney's Bondi Beach area.