Crossing the Tasman Sea: New Zealanders in Australia

By Luke Anscombe, Special to The Epoch Times
October 31, 2018 Updated: October 31, 2018

BRISBANE, Australia—They may be geographic neighbors and share nearly identical flags, but Australia and New Zealand are worlds apart when it comes to the economy and jobs—which is why 15 percent of New Zealand citizens call Australia home.

New Zealanders move to Australia mostly because of economic reasons, says Peter McDonald, an emeritus professor of demography from the Australian National University.

“There is a pretty strong relationship with migration and the Australian economy,” McDonald said.

“New Zealand is a country that’s used to out migration—25 percent of New Zealand citizens live outside of New Zealand,” he explained. “New Zealand is a small place and produces a lot of talented people, so the opportunities are elsewhere and for a lot of people it’s not a very big market, so they’ll travel to be part of a bigger world.”

The Australian flag (R) and the New Zealand flag fly on the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Australian flag (R) and the New Zealand flag fly on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to commemorate Australia New Zealand Army Corps Day on April 25, 2005. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

In 1973 the two countries ratified the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement which allows for the free movement of citizens between the two nations. New Zealanders and Australians can live and work in either country indefinitely, without the visa conditions most immigrants have.

While an estimated 640,000 New Zealanders have made permanent use of the arrangement, only 62,000 Australian-born citizens live in New Zealand, despite Australia having five times the population.

Queensland’s Gold Coast is a popular destination for New Zealand immigrants who move to Australia in search of a better life and better pay. And the Gold Coast is where The Epoch Times found Phil Ryan, 37, a musician and former call center worker.

“In New Zealand you’re basically just on a treadmill. You’re not going to get any further after a certain point, so you come to Australia to progress,” he said.

Ryan left New Zealand in 2008 after working as an audio technician and copywriter at a radio station near Wellington, the country’s capital and second-largest city.

He says he moved because he wanted to live in the “real world” and follow many of his friends who have made the jump across the Tasman Sea.

“I thought it would be good to get some real-world experience,” he said. “New Zealand is so far away from everything and you can’t make enough money to really get out, so you can sort of just be trapped there.”

Phil Ryan, a New Zealand citizen who lives in Gold Coast, Australia.
Phil Ryan, a New Zealand citizen who lives in Gold Coast, Australia. (Luke Anscombe/Special to The Epoch Times)

However, he hasn’t been able to hold down a stable, long-term job and makes ends meet temping around southeast Queensland.

Although he has been in Australia for over 10 years, he still can’t get the same benefits as an Australian, such as a student loan.

“It’s just ‘no, you’re a Kiwi, go home,’” he said. “That’s the feeling you get is just that you’re not really welcome here.”

Despite that, he has no plans to leave.

“I’m quite happy in the Gold Coast right now, I’m very content,” he said. “People have their racist attitudes, people say Kiwis sound like hillbillies, but Australians are really nice. Gold Coast people are friendly as hell.”

Katie Dixon, 27, moved to Brisbane, Queensland, after the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, which devastated the small New Zealand city and killed 185 people. Christchurch is still slowly rebuilding.

“After the earthquake I found myself feeling trapped and wanted more out of life than I was getting,” she said. “Progress in Christchurch was slow and still is, and there wasn’t much there anymore for someone in their early 20s.”

An aerial view of Gold Coast, Australia.
An aerial view of Gold Coast, Australia, on May 17, 2017. (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

When Dixon first moved to Australia she worked at a call center. She later moved to her current role as an executive assistant at an architecture firm, where she puts her history degree to good use by helping with research on Brisbane’s historical buildings.

“The big reason people move here is the fact you get paid more and the living cost is relative to your wage, but like with anywhere you move to, if you scratch beneath the surface you are bound to find barriers,” she said.

“I felt a little bit like I had stepped back in time when I first moved here. Things are improving and will continue to improve, but I definitely think you get the whole ‘grass is greener’ impression once you get here.”

She adds, however, that she likes the Australian people.

“I really like the people. Most of the time Aussies are really nice, and as long as you can take some friendly banter then you’re all good,” she said.

Like Dixon, Mike Silverwood, 32, moved to Australia following the devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes.

“I felt like the quality of life I had in Christchurch was nowhere near the same as it was pre-earthquake. I love Christchurch and New Zealand, but to me, the city had lost its soul,” he said.

After a career in IT, Silverwood now works as a security officer.

Workers like Silverwood are paid higher rates to work after dark and on weekends; there is no such scheme in New Zealand. Workers also enjoy higher minimum and average wages across the board and a lower cost of living than in New Zealand.

“What Australia has done right is industry award wages; there is an incentive to work nights and weekends,” Silverwood said, adding that better public transit and universal health care are also a plus.

As for moving back to New Zealand, he doubts it will ever happen.

“I could only see myself [moving back] come retirement, and in all honesty, I don’t think I would be able to afford to go back.”