Lost Democracy: Why New Zealanders living in Australia should be granted the right to vote

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The following is a speech written by Virginia Streit as part of course work for her master’s degree in communication.


I am a New Zealander living in Australia and though the history of trans-Tasman cooperation between our countries is as old as their European colonisation, though we fought side by side in trenches, help each other through natural disasters, share the same passions – a love of sport, Vegemite and barbeques – I am unable to vote here.


New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote, but I have lost that right, having been away from New Zealand for too long to vote there. This is because Australia, despite granting her trans-Tasman sister many other privileges, denies me this, what I believe is the most important role in democratic life.


In 1973 our governments announced the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA), enabling citizens of New Zealand and Australia to live, work and vote in both countries.


Government studies cite that New Zealand migration has had positive benefits for Australia, yet in the 1990s, attention was drawn to Kiwis claiming unemployment benefits here. New Zealand meanwhile was concerned about a drain of skilled workers. In 2001 the two governments agreed to change the TTTA, denying Kiwis who arrived from then on access to Australian Government benefits and crucially the right to vote. The 64,600 Australians living in New Zealand continue to benefit from the same rights New Zealand citizens enjoy, such as financial support and voting.


However the changes haven’t deterred Kiwis from moving here – by June 2012 an estimated 670,000 New Zealanders were living in Australia.


If Australia is worried about the so called burden of too many New Zealanders crossing the Tasman, it should implement measures to ensure the system isn’t taken advantage of. This is preferable to denying hard working, tax-paying New Zealanders who still call Australia home the democratic right to vote.


A betters solution would be that the Australian government introduces a five year waiting period in which the New Zealander will show they aren’t a ‘Bondi Bludger’, as 90s media reports called them. Proof of the individual’s investment in Australia should be required.


For example, in order to receive a Medicare card, I had to provide receipts that showed I had shipped household goods here; letters of proof that I had full-time work, utilities contracts and a residential rental contract with my name. To grant a New Zealander voting rights on the basis of the same documentation, is not unreasonable, and it would reduce the risk of loopholes with which some might take advantage of the system.


Whatever the criteria for eligibility, the fact remains: New Zealanders living in Australia are paying taxes and should be able to decide how they’re spent. We contribute financially to Australia’s welfare system, infrastructure, the education and health sectors – just like any other working Australian.


The fact that the changes to the TTTA have not deterred New Zealand migration, shows that we aren’t here to bludge: we come here because we feel at home; we’re among family; the same reason why Australians go to New Zealand. To deny us the right to vote, while Australians can vote for the governments of New Zealand, is not just unfair – it is simply not how brothers and sisters should treat each other.


An amendment to the TTTA allowing New Zealanders to vote in Australia would bring these two siblings closer and continue to strengthen the trans-Tasman relationship upon which so much of our nations’ shared history has already been built.




Australian Government Productivity Commission and New Zealand Productivity Commission 2012, Strengthening economic relations between Australia and New Zealand, <http://transtasman-review.pc.gov.au/sites/default/files/13-D%20-%20Cross%20border%20movement%20of%20people.pdf>


Fact Sheet 17: New Zealanders in Australia, Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, viewed 21 August 2013, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/17nz.htm>


Goff, Phil (Hon) 2001, ‘The Trans-Tasman Relationship: A New Zealand Perspective’, Australian Review of Public Affairs, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-9. Retrieved August 23 2013 from ARPA database.


Kearney, Judith 2012, ‘Unlucky in a lucky country: A commentary on policies and practices that restrict access to higher education in Australia’, Journal of Social Inclusion, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 130-134. Retrieved August 21, 2016 from Griffith University ePress database.


New Zealand women and the vote: Suffrage and beyond, New Zealand History Online, viewed 23 August 2013, <http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/womens-suffrage>


Voting and elections for Australians in New Zealand, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, viewed 21 August 2013, <http://www.nzembassy.com/australia/relationship-between-new-zealand-and-australia/australians-new-zealand/voting-and-elections>

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