Posted by SCA on  October 30, 2019 |

We are all counted as citizens when we’re taxed.  We are all counted like citizens for the census.  But the country is divided along a dark corridor that few people even know exists and fewer still fully understand.  The consequences are much more than a bit of bother or a nagging inconvenience; the outcomes borne of a little 2001 policy change are grave, debilitating and tearing families apart – some in unspeakable ways and even within households – people who are made unequal and used as a form of permanent guest worker to drive a first world economy in a nation we all call home: Australia.  A generation now left bound for 18 years, some without even memory or experience of the New Zealand nation that is used as an identifier to segregate them forever upon the Australian continent.  Almost no one even noticed it had happened.

The darker shadows of Australia’s migration story find their ugliest aberrations projected through a filter of prejudice.  Individual prejudice is always confronting but when government is the architect of such exclusion we must recognise the indisputably bleak crossroads such shadows now attend.  When a nation claiming genuine democratic credentials, like Australia, gets it so wrong, that same democracy must act with all due speed to chart the way forward to better lights.  Where we fail to alter the current trajectory, the country continues on a downward path in which Government merely markets multicultural inclusion for all, while legally excluding others – whose place within country is indisputable, genuine and true but who are otherwise driven lower and denied any equity or parity of aspirational upward progress.

I was asked to write something that could better explain my family’s segregation and the lawful prejudice we endure in Australia; especially where our struggle is made so much more difficult by the diagnosis of our son’s disability within country – long after any alternate foreign harbour could – or even should have been contemplated.  As I wrote our story I came to confront the full scope of policy that shames Australia and sets this nation in very bad company – next to state actors who often describe themselves as democracies but whose use for democracy is restricted to often little more than the word democratic appearing in the country’s naming conventions and within whose borders the exploitation of a diaspora is not just encouraged but often enshrined at law.  I was asked to write something explaining why my children, Maya and Dylan, knowing no other nation but their ancestral Australia since they were ages 1 and 2, respectively, will be deported when they are adults or when I die (whichever comes first) because a little-known amendment was attached to a broader existing law 18 years ago that has come to brand them (and others) unequal and separate – forever.  I will work and live in Australia the rest of my life and never even be granted the vote.  This is not just un-Australian.  This is not liberal democracy.

This is what began in Australia on 26 February 2001 when then Prime Minister John Howard, thinking more as an architect of financial advantage than with any moral probity or consideration of the actual human lives involved a generation onward, quietly pushed an amendment bill through a Liberal dominated parliament that guaranteed passage into law.  The Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Act 2001 was a benign sounding minor amendment to the Social Security Act 1991 that effectively sailed through both houses of parliament in a few active days over all readings.  It gathered as much public notice on the day it became law as the chips in a fish basket – maybe even less notice than the paper they were wrapped within.

If only the outcome had been either limited to social security or benign, in what would come to be a law with most malignant consequences.  If only.  The bill would come into law and create an outcome in which a subset of the otherwise permanent New Zealand diaspora within Australia would be forever made displaced and denied any hope of inclusion, social equity or citizenship – forever.  If you had come before 2001 you were ok but if you entered country on a Kiwi passport after that last Monday in February in 2001 you were dudded – even if you were now an adult but had lived in Australia as a Kiwi child. If you were not in country on 26 February 2001 (the day the little piece of social security policy amendment pegged as the threshold date) you were about to experience the kind of segregation “hurt” felt by a targeted diaspora in developing economies – a polite euphemism for those often markedly undemocratic states. A modest exemption existed for the preceding year, where you were absent but had otherwise made Australia your home in years leading up to 26.02.2001 but were out of country in the 12 months prior.  That was it.  Country open to all with a valid visa but if it was a Kiwi visa, even if you were making Australia your genuine and only home, you were in for the kind of exclusion and segregation you only read about in conflict countries and dubious democracies.

People who legally make their true and genuine home in Australia, who exist in country for life, should be either permanent under law and land or not within law and land – anything else is an unmistakable abuse and clear exploitation of people.  Harold Holt, arguably the last genuine small-l Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister understood this when in 1966 he ended the foul statute that made non-Europeans (legislative code for non-white) wait 15 years of residence to become citizens while their European (legislative code for white) only waited 5 years of residence to become citizens.  Holt believed that genuine and lawful residence of legally admitted people who made Australia home should not be parsed and never divided.  35 years after Holt’s efforts at equity of equality John Howard would wind back segregation to a whole new but markedly familiar and uniquely foul context in which an otherwise genuine and permanent people would be excluded forever because of their national identification and denied inclusion in country – for life.  Howard’s little social security gambit would bring words like “temporary” and “permanent” to within an inch of their intended meanings for a whole generation of people tarred with the Kiwi brush, and things have only gotten worse in the ensuing 18 years.  Where one was merely a spouse or child of a Kiwi but not themselves a New Zealand citizen the Kiwi identifier meant the economic apartheid and service denial they experienced would drop to a level inconceivable to anyone calling a first world nation their home.

Sometimes you don’t even have to make laws that are complex and otherwise bloated to discourage public protest or reply – you just have to target a minority of affected people and attend law via the most obscure policy position possible – like a little amendment to a social security law to effectively deliver a profound immigration and citizenship outcome.  Think of the American’s using tax law as a means of finally “getting” the infamous Al Capone in 1931, except no one being targeted was a “bad guy” and the Kiwi diaspora definitely deserved more consideration and much less legal obfuscation than a recognised criminal who was badged “Public Enemy No. 1” by that nation’s FBI.  My metaphor is a touch indulgent but I think it conveys the outcome in terms many a reader will appreciate for context.

The result of John Howard’s 2001 amendment was not a modest change to social security for those affected but the creation of a lawfully defined cohort that in 2019 now numbers in the hundreds of thousands – legally segregated persons – without any pathway towards inclusion, citizenship or the reasonable capacity to leave their only genuine home: Australia.  Many of this cohort have little knowledge of New Zealand and some, like my wife and children, don’t even have the legal right to citizenship in New Zealand.  The Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Bill 2001 was introduced on the last day of the month in a busy sitting week on a Wednesday, 28 February 2001.  Larry Anthony a 39 year old, prodigal son of a three generation political dynasty who’d inherited his federal Richmond seat from his father, had been given the Community Services portfolio by Howard.  Anthony would read the bill into parliament between a copyright amendment that preceded his reading and a customs tariff proposal. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never would so many of the damned come to owe so much misery to so few.  As the nation slept.

The bill was crafted as a component of the existent social security law – that the amendments use as an exclusionary tool of citizenship and a component of immigration law, held little notice or merit at the bills entry into law, among the many thoughtless inequities that would flow with existential effect 18 years onward.  The second reading was scheduled for the following Tuesday, 6 March 2001 and occurred without delay.  The second reading completed that Tuesday, no time was lost and the third reading was put through on that same Tuesday, 6 March 2001.  The LNP dominated Senate received the bill from the LNP majority lower house the very next day, on 7 March 2001 and the introduction and first reading occurred post haste.  The following day the bill was read a second time in that chamber, agreed to on the same day and the third reading was agreed to on the following day 8 March 2001.  Royal Assent was affected a few weeks later as a standard protocol to all legislation, no matter how great – or small – on 30 March 2001.  Done.  A generation would grow without any hope of inclusion and some with no capacity to exit their only home – made law within a few working moments across both chambers of parliament.  Sometimes democracy is flawed.  Sometimes it is profoundly broken.  Almost no one even noticed it had happened.

This little piece of Australian government legislation, whether by more cynical design or unintended consequence, now indisputably leaves a generation adrift, without any hope of inclusion, even as the government draws economic strength from their exploitation (where their earnings are expressed into the Australian economy, even as they receive little or no benefit of most people otherwise permanently in country).  Where taxation without representation is also an enduring component of this piece of legislative handiwork, we now have a crisis and not merely a policy debate in this nation. The state sanctioned exploitation of a vulnerable diaspora is not just un-Australian, it is an affront to human rights and an offence to any sense of human dignity.   I would ask anyone claiming credentials to liberal values to contemplate the mental health consequences – setting aside all other effects – of such exclusion and ask them to consider their view, where the human beings involved were not digital analytics or academic binary propositions but members of their own family.

Some of that diaspora, like my children, are neither Australian nor Kiwi though legally defined as simply ‘forming a New Zealand family’, and have lived within and known no other nation but Australia from ages 1 and 2, respectively but are left in a most rudderless bias. The title of the bill alone, assured about as much interest as watching paint dry; the Family and Community Service Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Bill 2001.  The bill was washed through an LNP dominated parliament and became law.  The defined purpose of the bill was to give effect to revisions in the Australia – New Zealand Social Security Agreement.  A bit like calling a glass of water breakfast – the agreement would create a caste system in Australia that now sees a massive vulnerable and quite segregated diaspora within country who service the economy with their wages but have no equity of equality.  In a democracy majority rule should never be conflated with tyranny of the majority.  Lifetime segregation to an exploited and legally defined group left stripped of any hope of inclusion should not find simple comportment into law, lest the state cease to reflect anything remotely resembling that liberal democratic suit it claims to wear.

In that first year of the 2001 law, the dispossessed were so few and besides – no overt signs of systemic damage to families would be obvious or identifiable for boffins to analyse.  In months following such subtlety of statecraft the public protest before an issue unknown was nil (self-interest is funny that way) and the effects were simply unseen (out of sight and mind) – until you considered how the law played out over years and now decades and upon family’s like ours – branded as part of the Kiwi diaspora but home in the only nation that legally rejects us for life with zero chance of even making New Zealand a home.  Each night we are reminded, in ways to personal to disclose here, the full burden of our son’s disability and how Government uses it to forestall any hope of inclusion in Australian nation we live, work, and suffer (even the similarly little-known Turnbull ploy of 2016 to further subdivide the diaspora is thwarted where our son’s disability keeps us segregated by the small print of that little LNP gambit to keep the growing mob quiet).

The Commonwealth’s liberal credentials now ring with all the attendant integrity of a broken bell and should shame every member of the LNP because the light of liberalism no longer shines – extinguished on 26 February 2001 with the ensuing 18 years ending equality of opportunity and anything resembling reward for work or any hope of inclusion to say anything of aspirations.  It took 72 years from the Commonwealth’s birth to be completely rid of the final vestige of statutory segregation not excised by Harold Holt, when Gough Whitlam removed the last lingering overt legislative prejudices from federal law in 1973.  Then John Howard became prime minister and the sickly creep to exclusion returned – a dark creeping tide almost no one noticed.

Let’s cut through all the noise and understand what the consequences of a policy almost no one knows; the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) 2001 genuinely mean after 18 years – to the lives of actual human beings.  My Kiwi mum has been back in Australia for over a quarter century and is Australian at law and by land, as is my Australian stepfather (my Canadian father long departed this world).  I am a Kiwi but not an Aussie and my wife and children are neither one or the other – a most sticky wicket with very grave consequences for my wife and children, even darker than the disadvantage of the broader diaspora they form but within which they reflect an even more excluded subset.  My anomalous birth in Canada and the birth of my children in the Philippines, despite their being home in Australia from ages 1 and 2, respectively, have been measured without merit or consideration beyond those simple facts of citizenship.  My children exist in Australia with their broader and very much Australian citizen family on the continent their ancestors have been present for centuries, but under the vagaries of the 2001 Howard policy law and its applied legal consequences, it comes to pass that my own small family of four shall exist forever in that same Australia to work, pay taxes, form community but never know belonging, inclusion or even the basic democratic expression that is the right to vote.

In fact, when I die my wife and children well be deemed ineligible for the basic legal component that sees them “form a Kiwi family” and thus, they will be effectively deported from the nation they call home.  Stunning in ways even unknown to the greater Kiwi diaspora so otherwise marginalised.  Perfectly legal and flowing from that little-known amendment passed into law with the final vote in Senate on 8 March 2001 and given royal ascent with Governor-General Sir William Deane’s signature a few weeks later, as a final act of the week that was a Friday, 30 March 2001.

Setting aside the clumsily considered and catastrophic consequences to a generation, as a result of the amendment, the salient fact remains that this piece of legislative handiwork quite literally divided my family; my own parents recognised as permanent and equal people within Australia but a son, his spouse and their children made utterly segregated within one family upon the only continent they all collectively call home.  My wife and children (especially where our son is disabled), as neither Kiwi nor Aussie quite possibly among the most vulnerable people in the only nation they know as home.  The amendment found certain life in a Government dominated parliament but the morality of such law’s consequence have been borne out as utterly bankrupt and repellant to any notion of either fair or reasonable where such outcome is imposed for life.

I never began this journey in defence of democracy – my ambitions markedly more modest.  I just wanted my family to find some field of fair play in the nation we call home; a continent upon which our larger Australian family and centuries of ancestors have only honourably and respectfully contributed and similarly called home.  I similarly did not seek a fight with the Liberal led LNP Government.  I thought – and still think – Harold Holt did so much, in a life cut too short, as Prime Minister to make this nation a field of far fairer play, as he sought to remove the corrosive elements from law that made equity of equality an impossible proposition.  This undertaking I now confront was never about party politics – it was about small-l liberal democracy and a genuine fair go for those who have a go.  No marketing, no rhetoric, just genuine and true fair dinkum values.

I do not relish my contempt for John Howard’s divisive policies any more than I celebrate a fight with successive ministries who let the inequity stand at law – I’d much rather be concerning myself with things than advance Australia and two small people I am so proud to call my children and a woman who had the curious idea to marry me, instead of trying to remedy the unknown wounds upon the body politic created by Howard and left to fester by successive governments.  Australia is better than this and engineering policy to create inequality is most decidedly neither liberal democracy or the kind of Australia any fair and reasonable person can defend.

Howard’s policies most overtly and obviously exploited the Kiwi diaspora but his engineered changes to working visas and the student visas, in a recasting so radical that those sectors similarly show grave inequity, as they also return great treasure to budget, show how far the immigration narrative so vital to this country has let to be hijacked in service to monetised benefit – the human collateral be damned.  The Kiwi diaspora case is just the most egregious because that cohort are indeed genuinely and permanently home in Australia but left to rot – quite separate and unequal, for life, as they drive the economy – a kind of servitude that cannot be morally rationalised by any law even where it gives some the hubris to remind us all that none of us “shall be above it.”  Yes, Prime Minister, none of us are above the law but good leaders confess the flaws of fouled and punitive doctrine and set about attending urgent remedy to their better build – that a fair go, like equity of equality be more than slogans.

A liberal democracy, like the people who genuinely make up that democracy, are all made poorer when rhetoric of inclusion becomes a substitute for genuine equality and when exclusion is left to breed under the authority of legislation.  While some within parliament sometimes reflect passion or reason and within some even a lot of both, there remains amongst too many too much a tendency to consider bills a mere contest between parties with little thought of the actual human lives sometimes quite profoundly catastrophised in service to a bit of horse-trading, pork barreling and other vagaries of legislative sausage making.

How do I teach my disabled son, Dylan, about hope or provide my daughter enduring lessons about what equality means in a nation that now legally denies their very integrity finding even a basic equity?  How do I talk to my profoundly wise 8 year old daughter, Maya, about the empowerment of woman and matters of gender equality when the very Commonwealth in which she exists denies she even has a basic civil equality?  Imagine the fear my wife and I possess as we both struggle to protect and watch over our disabled son and collectively vulnerable children, who the Commonwealth deny are even a permanent part of this country?  A Government who refuse even the basic dignity of a Medicare card to my children or wife? Our son, of course, branded by the vagaries of that once incidental policy law that now see him also denied any hope of protection, access or even consideration before the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and so not one cent of care, aid or assistance.  An equal chance based on equal access now a complete fiction within the Commonwealth and the Liberal party that still dare to define themselves thus – as a party whose core values are based on equality, reward for work, freedom and the importance of family and home.

The little boy, our son, whose ancestors have been present upon this continent for centuries and who knows no other home left abandoned by the vagaries of law that have visited profound discrimination.  When Dylan’s disability was diagnosed in Australia our life was inverted and torn asunder but we went on – we did not fall or falter and we assumed unspeakable burdens as we watch Government withhold even the dignity of a Medicare card – not even the minimum protections (and dignity) of Medicare.  Imagine our struggles with that kind of exclusion.  Imagine our cost burden of such compounded disadvantage – to purse, mental health and even physical health as we continue to act honourably and work with a drive government claims are the hallmarks of aspiration. This is what an amendment to an obscure Act means to real people in Australia 18 years after John Howard punted it through a parliament his party ran with a voting authority and a most un-Australian brand of small-l liberal moral probity or integrity.

When overt discrimination can find authority under law a nation does more than flirt with tyranny, it defines it.  People who make their true and genuine home in Australia, who exist in country for life, should be either permanent under law and land or not within law and land – anything else is an unmistakable abuse and clear exploitation of people.   Full stop.

In a crowded field of miscalculations, the worst error of judgment made by the law’s architects was the failure to recognise or comprehend a diaspora of people effectively left segregated forever within country who would never be able to achieve inclusion.  The outcome of what appeared a nebulous social security amendment law passed with both Liberal controlled chambers now sees a legacy 18 years onward in which a diaspora of people are left trapped in their only country of otherwise genuine permanent residency and rendered unable to find legal inclusion, citizenship nor, in our case, even affect egress to New Zealand.  This diaspora, now numbering hundreds of thousands work, contribute, pay tax and drive an Australian economy – they have no hope of inclusion even as their withdrawal would see the Australian economy quite literally collapse or otherwise crash.  A state of servitude now exists in Australia, forced upon a vulnerable diaspora, some of whom have no recourse to effectively flee to a New Zealand nation they have never formed.  There is no equity of equality; no democracy and not even the basic right of a vote in this most un-Australian and dubiously democratic outcome.

Vagaries of law, like the White Australia policy once found statesman seeking shelter under the attendant claims that, “No one is above the law” too, but liberal democracy is based on majority rule not tyranny of the majority and we are defined not simply by what we can get away with in a liberal democracy but by the ever-present mandate for moral authority which the present state of play in Australia now reflects as most assuredly bankrupt.  When clear and overt inequity of equality is present in a nation, even where it’s been enshrined by law, as was the case under the White Australia policy, there is a moral mandate upon a leader of a genuine democracy to balance the scales that a field of fair play exists upon which to compete and aspire.  When we find a cancer growing in our democracy we cut it out – we don’t deny it is real and we don’t seek to invoke distraction as a legitimate solution to a problem that will inevitably grow to a critical mass.

When government is the very actor responsible for legally enshrining prejudice, under law, the very notion of an inclusive society is rendered false.  We have no other home.  We are a Trans-Tasman family but Australia is our only home and we cannot even seek safe harbour in New Zealand.  Setting aside the practical ask of any genuine family in Australia to move internationally, our son’s birth in the Philippines, and the his diagnosed disability revealed long after return to country (his vetting by Commonwealth Medical Officers just one more piece of the madness) means, under the vagaries of the very real 2001 Howard law that we have no pathway – forever – to becoming citizens of the only nation in which we live, work, and simply try to make sense of a life where a profoundly disabled child is effectively abandoned in the nation of his ancestors and his sister told to continue her determined efforts to aspire within a nation that denies any integrity to her fatuous hope.

This is the legislative outcome of the 2001 law changes to the culture, character, fairness and basic humanity of Australia – a kind of contagion created by John Howard and let to metastasise over 18 years.  A generation left segregated by a little known Commonwealth policy amendment in which people who make their true home in Australia are denied the equity of equality, despite doing everything asked of good citizens and in our case where such is done with the added mandate of a disabled child, within a nation our family have historically and honourably served for centuries.  Such outcome tenders no fair go and any resemblance to a genuine liberal democracy is the stuff of adroitly managed marketing machinations of state.  Australia is better than this and we all deserve better than this dubious brand of democracy.

One commenton IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT GO HOME!.
  1. wendy | | Reply

    Read it. I learned some new things and feel even worse about things than I did yesterday.


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