Australia announced Saturday it will make it easier for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders to become Aussie citizens, removing a long-festering thorn in ties between the traditionally friendly rivals.
Under the new rules starting July 1, New Zealanders can apply directly for citizenship if they arrived in Australia after 2001 and have lived there for at least four years — affecting some 380,000 people according to local media.
In 2001, Australia imposed a much-contested special category visa for New Zealanders that limited their access to health and welfare and obliged them to gain permanent residency before applying for citizenship.
“We know many New Zealanders are here on a special category visa while raising families, working and building their lives in Australia. So I am proud to offer the benefits that citizenship provides,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who was visiting Brisbane on Saturday to meet with Albanese, said it marked the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealand citizens living in Australia “in a generation”.
It also “restores the rights Kiwis had in Australia before they were revoked in 2001,” he said in a statement.
Hipkins said the announcement was deliberately timed to be close to ANZAC Day on April 25, which marks the anniversary of the first military action of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I.
Though close allies, relations had been soured by Australia’s 2001 visa restrictions.
New Zealand has also protested at Australia’s introduction in 2014 of the mandatory deportation of foreign nationals who received jail sentences of 12 months or more, with Kiwis the most affected.
Australia and New Zealand frequently spar in other areas, ridiculing each other with sheep-related jokes and hotly debating such questions as which nation invented the meringue-based desert pavlova.
The cross-Tasman rivalry is perhaps fiercest in sports, epitomised in the “underarm bowling incident” of 1981 when Australia’s last bowl in a one-day cricket match was thrown underarm along the ground, a legal but unsporting move that ensured New Zealand could not get the six runs they needed to tie the game.