Willie Jackson suggests Labour, National work together on free education, bonding scheme to keep New Zealand nurses

Labour MP Willie Jackson is suggesting political parties work together to address the flow of New Zealand nurses migrating to Australia.

It comes after it was reported earlier this week that more than 9000 New Zealand nurses have registered to work in Australia in the past 10 months.

Appearing on AM's political panel on Friday, Jackson said the country needs to come up with new ideas to fix its nursing shortage.

He said both Labour and National should look at a free education strategy for nurses that bonds them to New Zealand.

"It's something that we could all work across party lines," Jackson told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.

Currently, on top of their course fees, nursing students are required to do 1100 hours of free, unpaid placements in a clinical setting. It is a barrier for many students as it eats into the time available to do part-time work to pay for accommodation, food and on top of that - course fees.

Jackson acknowledged that National was looking at a similar incentive before the election. National proposed in April 2023 to pay nurses' and midwives' student loan repayments up to $4500 a year for the first five years of their careers. This adds up to $22,500 and increases their take-home pay by $87 a week.

However, to access the scheme, nurses and midwives will need to enter into a bonding agreement with the Government, where they commit to working in New Zealand for at least five years after they graduate.

"It's something that we could all work across party lines."
"It's something that we could all work across party lines." Photo credit: AM

Appearing alongside Jackson on the panel, Erica Stanford, who is the Minister for education and immigration, agreed the Government needs to do more to retain nurses.

She said nurses' pay is more aligned with Australia's following pay increases over the last few years, so now we need to start looking at other things like conditions.

"We've looked at a range of things before the election about what might work, in terms of retaining our nursing workforce and we looked at something slightly different but look I think in future we'd have to look at everything to see what's going to work," Stanford said.

However, it may not just be New Zealand-qualified nurses looking to move across the ditch.

While the Nursing Council does not record the number of New Zealand nurses who register in Australia, it records the number of verifications it provides under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act which then allows nurses to gain registration in Australia.

These figures sent to Newshub show in 2023 the council issued 9511 verifications of good standing to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Of these, 85 percent were for internationally qualified nurses.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti told AM earlier in the week that the internationally qualified nurses registering in Australia may not have been in New Zealand for long.

"What this looks like is a large number of these [nurses] may never ever be in New Zealand, don't ever register in New Zealand and we are being stepping-stoned into Australia – that's what the data looks like," Dr Reti said.

A Nursing Council spokesperson said it is not collecting data on the number of internationally qualified nurses choosing not to practise in New Zealand.

"We are being stepping-stoned into Australia – that's what the data looks like."
"We are being stepping-stoned into Australia – that's what the data looks like." Photo credit: Getty Images

Stanford disagreed with her fellow party member on Friday. She said she doesn't feel like new international nurses to New Zealand who entered under the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which opened in July 2022, are moving across the ditch. However, she added the data does not show the time spent the nurses spent in New Zealand.

"My feeling is it's not them that are leaving because they could have gone to Australia and probably got their residence or their pathways paid for so it was always very easy to get to Australia," Stanford said. 

"There is no reason for a back door through New Zealand anymore."