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NZ pushes back on Pacific-wide free movement

Dunedin, NEW ZEALAND — New Zealand cabinet ministers have considered, but dismissed for now, a Pacific proposal for easier movement of people around the region.

Pacific Islanders are subject to tougher entry conditions when they try to visit Australia or NZ than Australians or New Zealanders face when travelling to the Pacific.

The imbalance rankles many in the region, with Pacific leaders openly calling for Australia and NZ to address the disparity.

Last month, Fiji Deputy Prime Minister Biman Prasad demanded as much in a rousing keynote speech at an ANU conference.

"Our people should be able to move back and forth between all our countries," he said.

"They will build their careers across these countries.

"Our businesses should be able to easily expand across the whole region."

Mr Prasad said a unified, Pacific-wide single market "must include Australia and New Zealand."

"A starting point for that must be visa-free travel between Australia and New Zealand and Pacific Island states," he said.

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa has made a similar call, arguing on a recent visit to Australia for a European Union-style arrangement.

"We've been talking about that in the Pacific for a long time and part of that common market is free access of people around the region," she said.

Read more at Otago Daily Times