New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has urged Australia to give its citizens “equitable treatment” in higher education, while meeting opposition leader Bill Shorten for the first time since her election.
Ardern and Shorten met in Auckland on Saturday, and spoke to the media briefly about the treatment of New Zealanders in Australia.
Ardern again attacked the Australian government’s proposed higher education changes, which have stalled in the Senate. The changes would expose New Zealanders to significantly higher university fees. The policy prompted an angry response from former prime minister Bill English, and Ardern has been similarly scathing in her assessment.
Ardern raised the issue during her visit to Australia last month, and warned Australian students might face the same treatment in New Zealand, which is embarking on its own higher education changes.
On Saturday, Shorten said the New Zealanders were being “unfairly penalised”.
“I want to hear Jacinda’s views,” Shorten said. “But I think at the end of the day there is real merit in reviewing the way in which New Zealand permanent residents in Australia are getting penalised in terms of higher eduction costs.”
Ardern said the policy would ultimately hurt Australia, by deterring New Zealanders from pursuing tertiary education in Australia. “These are often New Zealanders making a long-term commitment to Australia,” she said. “If they aren’t able to get that same equitable access to tertiary education, if often means they just don’t pursue, potentially wouldn’t pursue, tertiary education.”
“That ultimately would hold Australia back in our view. So we know that New Zealanders who are making a good commitment, they are taxpayers, so we are simply seeking their equitable treatment. And equally I’m sure we’ll discuss some of our proposed changes to higher education here in New Zealand as well.”
The Turnbull government’s higher education reforms replace commonwealth subsidies for permanent Australian residents and New Zealand citizens with access to a loan scheme. The move would triple or quadruple the fees paid by the students, on average, but would mean they pay nothing up front. The student loan, however, would come with a 25% fee.
The government believes giving access to the loan scheme would attract more New Zealand students, rather than drive them away. It would help students “for whom upfront payment was a disincentive to study”, the policy statement said.
The statement estimates it will attract an additional 60,000 New Zealand students and permanent Australian residents.