Maurie McCluthie’s life began to unravel when she fell ill and lost her job as a disabled carer.
A family quarrel forced her out of her home and she emptied what was left of her superannuation.
Now she lives out of her car and sleeps on a friend’s couch.
“I never thought I’d be here,” she said.
The 61-year-old contacted Centrelink, but as a New Zealander who came to the country after 2001, she was told that she was not entitled to any government benefits.
“Centrelink just told me to go [not-for-profit group] YFS that could help with food, clothing and work, “she said.
“Without your help I would probably raid shops and eat out of trash cans, probably sleep in parks and that’s my worst nightmare.
“I didn’t want to go that far.”
“A beautiful place with great opportunities”
According to a New Zealand cabinet newspaper published earlier this year, an estimated 650,000 New Zealanders lived in Australia – including tourists and long-term residents.
The same document estimated that between 200,000 and 220,000 of these people settled in Australia after 2001, when the law changed and they were required to be permanent residents before they had access to social security benefits.
Mrs. McCluthie was one of those people.
In 2003 she moved to Queensland, where nearly 40 percent of Australia’s New Zealand population live.
In Queensland, the former nurse raised her children where her husband is buried and where her grandchildren call home.
Ms. McCluthie said she never needed or wanted government assistance prior to COVID-19 and worked in various jobs during her 17 years in Australia.
“I didn’t come here to use the system for this. I brought my children out with the belief that Australia was a beautiful place with great opportunities, ”she said.
New Zealanders who arrived after 2001 have access to the JobKeeper grant, but no access to welfare.
As a result, those who lost their jobs in the economic downturn have no income or government support.
Charities report an increase in unemployed New Zealanders in need of food and necessities.
New Zealanders feel “vulnerable”
Vicky Rose is a New Zealander who has lived in Queensland for 12 years.
She runs the Nerang Neighborhood Center on the Gold Coast, a city with an estimated 50,000 Kiwi expatriates.
She said she had been lobbying to change welfare rules for a decade, and the pandemic had exposed a longstanding problem.
“Once you’ve been rejected at Centrelink, the community sector is the next level,” she said.
“This is how charities and food banks all over Australia are hammered.
“New Zealanders feel very vulnerable and unsupported, especially when you have [Prime Minister] Jacinda Arden is publicly and verifiably taking care of all of her residents, including Australians, in a global pandemic.
“I’ve talked about this for over a decade. We have been established as second class citizens and it has to change. “
Ms. Rose said charities and community groups that had been filling the void for eight months were struggling to meet demand and were concerned about what would happen if JobKeeper expired.
“We’re all trying to future-proof what this is going to be like, but I think it’s going to be worse than we can possibly prepare,” said Ms. Rose.
Rachel Smith of YFS in Logan, south of Brisbane, said charities are already struggling to keep up with demand.
“We have seen a massive surge in New Zealand citizens due to a lack of income support,” she said.
“With many households raising more money with JobKeeper or JobSeeker, one of our main concerns is that people are used to spending beyond their means and may have committed to phone plans, payment plans, and rental contracts that they can no longer maintain. “
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