Covid-19

Locked down and locked out in Australia

Celebrated Kiwi author and expat Ian Brodie adds his voice to pleas for the Australian government to relax welfare rules and help more than half a million vulnerable New Zealanders, writes Jill Herron.

Brothers in arms, we are not.

That’s the call from award-winning Kiwi author, photographer and film tourism veteran Ian Brodie, who is now facing a very uncertain future in Australia.

Brodie and his wife Dianne are adding their voices to calls for the Australian government to reconsider its stance on barring New Zealanders from access to benefits, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a compassion thing more than anything else now I believe,” he says. “Our Australian friends and colleagues have been hugely supportive, but the government, not so much.”

While the Brodies went to Australia knowing they could not access welfare they believe the extraordinary circumstances now warrant a different approach. 

“We have been working and paying taxes here for nearly five years,” Brodie says. “We built a house, have a mortgage, we have grandchildren here, a cat, a dog, all those things. Now my work is gone and Dianne’s will be drastically reduced. No income, just like that.”

About 650,000 New Zealanders live permanently and work in Australia on Special Category Visas (SCVs) that render them ineligible for the Jobseeker allowance now being paid to their Australian counterparts who have lost work due to the pandemic. While those on an SCV can access Medicare, only those with permanent residency or citizenship qualify for the full benefit system.

It’s a tough call for someone like Brodie. Perhaps best known as the author The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, a massive international and New Zealand bestseller based on the locations featured in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, he was recognised for Services to Tourism in the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours and has worked as a stills photographer in the film industry in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Norway for over 25 years. 

That success amounts to little, however, when being self-employed means he is not eligible for Australian welfare. Dianne’s payout after a relatively short working life in administration in Australia would likely only be a few thousand dollars. It’s a far cry from the life they envisaged when they followed their children to Australia.

Brodie’s son Travis, a supervisor for Rio Tinto’s iron ore operation, moved to Perth 13 years ago. Ian, Dianne and daughter Sally-Anne, a registered nurse, followed eight years later. Sally-Anne is now working with 20 Western Australian health clinics in the battle with Covid-19, as well as delivering food to her parents who are self-isolating. 

“It’s like being in a horror movie and you don’t know the ending,” says Brodie. “And we’re just one family of many, many Kiwis here. We couldn’t come home even if we had somewhere to go in New Zealand. We can’t sell our house, there’s no real estate sales, no packers to pack the furniture, we simply can’t afford to leave everything we have. There are no jobs back in New Zealand to go to anyway.”

He has written to Australian Social Services Minister Anne Ruston but had no response. “We have phoned and emailed but can’t talk to anyone. You just get answer machines, no replies. It’s eating at me now and there’s a bitterness here. There is no ANZAC spirit. We don’t want hand-outs for years, just some assistance for New Zealanders to get by and get through what is going to be a worldwide depression.”

According to the NZRelo website, which provides information for New Zealanders in Australia, people affected by the Covid-19 crisis should contact Centrelink (the Australian equivalent of WINZ), to explore the possibility of accessing early release superannuation payments. It warned of long waits due to high demand from New Zealanders seeking help. 

Meanwhile, with the virus spreading rapidly, the Brodies were concerned about the number of people in the area still working and being in contact with each other. The couple are both in their early 60s and Dianne suffers from asthma.

“I don’t think the general population here realise how serious this is. Numbers of cases are rising exponentially in every state but the social distancing rules are being ignored. You can still go to the mall and get takeaways or a haircut and go to work. I went to the supermarket on Thursday and people were crammed in, very few in masks or gloves, no controls on numbers on the door.”

The family would rally around to help and the couple’s many friends both Kiwi and Australian were all “bunching together as mates”. 

“We’ve got to ride this out,” Brodie concludes. “I have written to Jacinda Ardern to ask for help too. At least you’ve got a sensible Prime Minister there doing the right things.”

*Made with the support of NZ On Air*

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