Andrew Little's trip to Canberra to advocate for Kiwis getting citizenship in Australia could damage warming sentiment to the idea among the country's leaders, John Key has warned.
The Labour leader will head to Australia's capital to make the case for Kiwis living across the ditch who are getting a "raw deal" when it comes to living and working there.
He is set to meet with two parliamentary committees and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton tomorrow, and said the purpose of the visit was to "gain the attention" of the committees.
But the Prime Minister says that could backfire and undo the work the Government is doing to progress the issue.
At his post-Cabinet news conference yesterday, Mr Key hoped Mr Little's visit wouldn't hurt progress made behind the scenes.
"We are working on this issue of pathways to citizenship. [Australian Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull seems sympathetic to what we're saying; [former Prime Minister] Tony Abbott was becoming more sympathetic to the issue. I reckon we're going to see some progress.
"I certainly hope Andrew Little doesn't make things worse because quite frankly, I'm not being stupid about it, but there's movement in the Australian system but the more they highlight that to Australian MPs the more push back you might get, not support," he says.
Mr Key says he'd also raised the plight of Kiwis in Australia with Australia’s Labor leader Bill Shorten, as well as with successive Australian Prime Ministers.
All were understanding of the situation.
"There's an acceptance that they just can't carry on the way they are with such a large group of people who effectively don't have a pathway to becoming an Australian citizen. It doesn't seem right to me."
But while work was being done on a pathway to citizenship for Kiwis, Australia can't be forced to do anything.
Mr Key also said Australia's current policies – including the deportation of criminals who have served more than 12 months in prison – were popular in Australia and have "widespread support".
"There is a degree of diplomacy about this stuff, that we can get progress if we're prepared to work behind the scenes in my view, but it's up to [Mr Little]."
Mr Little says New Zealanders are denied benefits funded through general taxation, despite being taxpayers.
If they want to become citizens they're hit with a $5000 non-refundable deposit, but many don't want to take that risk, Mr Little says.
Some small progress was made during Mr Turnbull's visit to New Zealand last month, when he announced long-term residents would be eligible for student loans.
Mr Little and Labour MP Phil Goff leave for Australia today.