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Jobless New Zealander, 61, not eligible for JobSeeker payment and living out of car since coronavirus hit

Maurie McCluthie’s life started to unravel when she became ill and lost her job as a disability carer.

A family dispute forced her from her home and she drained what was left of her superannuation.

Now she is living out of her car and sleeping on a friend’s couch.

“I never thought I’d be here,” she said.

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The 61-year-old turned to Centrelink, but as a New Zealander who arrived in the country after 2001, she was told she was not eligible for government benefits.

“Centrelink just told me to go to [not-for-profit group] YFS, who could help with food, clothes and getting work,” she said.

“Without their help, I think I would be raiding shops and eating out of rubbish bins, probably sleeping in parks and that’s my worst nightmare.

“I didn’t want to go that far.”

‘A beautiful place with great options’

According to a New Zealand cabinet paper released earlier this year, an estimated 650,000 New Zealanders were living in Australia — including tourists and long-term residents.

The same document estimated that between 200,000 and 220,000 of those people settled in Australia after 2001, when the law had changed and required them to become permanent residents before they could access social security payments.

Ms McCluthie was one of those people.

In 2003, she moved to Queensland, home to almost 40 per cent of Australia’s New Zealand population.

Queensland is where the former nurse raised her children, where her husband is buried and the place her grandchildren call home.

Ms McCluthie said she had never needed or wanted government support before COVID-19 and had worked in several jobs during her 17 years in Australia.

“I didn’t come here to use the system for that — I brought my children out on the belief that Australia is a beautiful place with great options,” she said.

New Zealanders who arrived after 2001 are allowed access to the JobKeeper subsidy, but cannot access welfare.

Therefore those who lost their jobs in the economic downturn have neither income nor government assistance.

Charities are reporting a spike in out-of-work New Zealanders needing food and necessities.

New Zealanders feeling ‘vulnerable’

Vicky Rose is a New Zealander who has lived in Queensland for 12 years.

She runs the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre on the Gold Coast, a city with a population of an estimated 50,000 Kiwi expatriates.

She said she had been lobbying for a decade to have the welfare rules changed, and that the pandemic had highlighted a longstanding problem.

“Once you’re declined at Centrelink, the next level down is the community sector,” she said.

“So charities and foodbanks across Australia are getting hammered.

“New Zealanders are feeling very vulnerable and not supported, especially when you have [Prime Minister] Jacinda Arden publicly and demonstrably looking after all of her residents, including Australians, in a global pandemic.

Jacinda Ardern holds up a poster explaining New Zealand's coronavirus alert system
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been applauded for her coronavirus response.(AP: Nick Perry)

“I’ve been talking about this for over a decade. We’ve been set up to be second class citizens and it needs to change.”

Ms Rose said charities and community groups who had been picking up the slack for eight months were struggling to meet demand and worried about what would happen when JobKeeper expired.

“We’re all trying to do future-proofing exercises on what that’s going to look like, but I think it will be worse than we could possibly prepare for,” Ms Rose said.

Rachel Smith from YFS in Logan, south of Brisbane, said charities were already struggling to keep up with demand.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in New Zealand citizens due to a lack of income support,” she said.

“Because there has been increased money into a lot of households on JobKeeper or JobSeeker, one of our main concerns is people are now used to spending above their means and may have committed to phone plans, payment plans, rental tenancies they can no longer sustain.”


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