‘Desperate’ Kiwis’ denied virus help in Australia

New Zealanders in Australia have been shut out of the COVID-19 welfare package, despite many of them working and paying taxes here for years.

Alax Robinson, a Kiwi based in Brisbane, is worried he's going to end up homeless without help from the Australian Government after losing his casual job last week

"I have no money. I don't know how I'm going to survive," he told news.com.au. "So many Kiwis are going to end up on the street because they've got nowhere to go. We're absolutely desperate."

Mr Robinson, 35, has worked in Australia since September 2017, contributing to the economy and paying his taxes. But now he feels permanent New Zealand residents have been abandoned by the Australian Government, and he's started a petition last weekend that has received massive support.

 

Thousands headed to Centrelink after they lost their jobs, causing queues.
Thousands headed to Centrelink after they lost their jobs, causing queues.

 

Last week, the Federal Government unveiled a raft of measures in a bid to stimulate Australia's coronavirus-hit economy, including a $750 payout and a "coronavirus supplement" of $550 a fortnight for those who've recently lost their jobs.

Only problem is, New Zealand citizens aren't eligible for these payouts, even if they've been in Australia for years.

It comes as Australians themselves are struggling to access the promised payments, with Centrelink queues making headlines around the country.

"We just want a fair go," Mr Robinson said. "Australians have a fair go in New Zealand.

"There is a bit over half a million New Zealand citizens who have made Australia their home. Many of us will be OK for a while, but some of us need help right away."

More than 600,000 New Zealanders live in Australia.

Since 2001, Kiwis who have moved to Australia are not eligible for core unemployment benefits, despite this safety net being available for Aussies in New Zealand.

Mr Robinson wants this to change.

 

People wait in a queue to get to their local Centrelink office.
People wait in a queue to get to their local Centrelink office.

 

New Zealand's leadership has petitioned Prime Minister Scott Morrison to allow Kiwis in Australia, such as Mr Robinson, access to the coronavirus welfare package.

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern said she had directly "raised this issue with Prime Minister Morrison".

"I specifically sought, could we have a short-term exception, just for these exceptional circumstances for New Zealanders to be supported?" she said.

A Department of Social Services spokesperson told news.com.au it was considering making changes to help struggling migrants.

"Welfare assistance may be available to some other temporary visa holders if they face significant financial hardship under the Special Benefit payment," the spokesperson said.

"New Zealand citizens in Australia on a Special Category Visa (subclass 444) may have access (to) a range of payments, depending on their circumstances."

 

Jacinda Ardern has spoken up in support of the petition. Picture: David Rowland/AAP
Jacinda Ardern has spoken up in support of the petition. Picture: David Rowland/AAP

 

Mr Robinson worked in tourism in Tasmania, an industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

"When they (the Government) banned the cruise ships I got a text message from my boss saying 'Alax, I'm really sorry but we don't have a job for you anymore'," he said.

"I was literally walking to work (when I got the text); it happened that suddenly."

He spent what he had left on his journey back to his family in Brisbane. The trip from Tasmania to Queensland cost him about $1000 due to petrol and the ferry to get to Australia's mainland. It was everything he had left.

"I just need to be able to pay my landlord so I don't get evicted," he said.

If he ever lost his job, Mr Robinson had planned to go back to New Zealand, where he would get unemployment benefits.

"But we don't have freedom of movement, we're basically marooned," he said.

"There are no flights now, and I couldn't find one last week for less than $1000."

Besides, Mr Robinson said Australia was his home now.

"I'm a permanent resident here, I've built my life here, I've built my home," he said. "Everything that I love is here, my partner's here, this is my home now.

"Up until now we (Kiwis) have been self-sufficient, we've been paying tax.

"But we're asking the Government to show some compassion, (even if it's) just for the outbreak.

"I've never really complained until now."

Mr Robinson has started a petition that gained more than 50,000 signatures in the first three days.

 

Alax Robinson has been hit hard by the changes.
Alax Robinson has been hit hard by the changes.

 

Now, a week later, the petition has had 225,000 people signing up in support.

"It's not just for me," he said.

"Most of my (New Zealand) friends were hospitality workers, in bars, tourism, restaurants.

"I have friends who've been here for 14 years. They can't access the benefits like the normal Australian can.

"Friends have run me up crying, asking what to do."

 

Restaurant seating areas have been closed off after the government announced tough new measures. Now many are without a job.
Restaurant seating areas have been closed off after the government announced tough new measures. Now many are without a job.

 

"To The Honourable Stuart Robert MP," his petition reads.

"As the Minister for Government Services, please allow New Zealand citizens who live and work in Australia to access the full Centrelink support safety net especially during (the) COVID-19 outbreak.

"The New Zealand government already offers access to the full social welfare safety net that Work and Income offer after only living in New Zealand for 30 days if they provide evidence that they intend to live and work in New Zealand going forward.

"Please reinstate the reciprocal agreement that we used to have at the very least during the COVID-19 outbreak."

Mr Robinson was heartened by so many Australians signing his petition.

"I expected people to get behind it, but not this quickly," he said.

"At the moment we're getting a new signature every 30 seconds."

 

A man eats his lunch alone amid new social distancing policies
A man eats his lunch alone amid new social distancing policies

 

Despite the outpouring of support, Mr Robinson is still in a tight spot financially as his mum came over to visit. She can't return home, so he must support her too.

"She came over for three months because my sister-in-law has cancer," he said.

"She came over to help my brothers and daughter, now she's stuck here, she can't get any help at all, she doesn't even have Medicare."

Because of her age, he's also worried what will happen if she gets coronavirus.

"I'm not angry (at my situation), I'm just really concerned, getting a little frustrated," he said.

"I can't even access my own money and get help with my own means."

Mr Robinson has been trying to access his superannuation fund to pay for his basic necessities, but it's not working out.

"I talked to my super provider and I'm not allowed to apply for super to be taken out until April 14," he said.

"I'm trying to get my money in my New Zealand super sent over but it takes a minimum of 30 days for those funds to be transferred."

Mr Robinson hasn't lost hope, however, and he encourages other struggling Kiwis to feel the same way.

"There are things that can be done to make your lives a little bit easier," he said.

"Talk to your finance companies, talk to your landlords.

"They know what's going on, and some of them might even help you.

"Makes people feel like they have some control, those little bits of hope that people can hold on to."

Want to help? Sign the petition.

Originally published as 'Desperate' Kiwis' denied virus help

 

Robinson hopes to help others like him
Robinson hopes to help others like him

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