19 Oct 2015

Detained Kiwis 'should come home'

8:24 pm on 19 October 2015

Come home if you don't want to stay locked up in an Australian detention centre - that's the message from the Prime Minister John Key.

Prime Minister John Key

Prime Minister John Key Photo: AFP

Mr Key said he personally did not want to see New Zealanders detained on Christmas Island, partly it because it then separated them from their families.

Mr Key met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the weekend, where they discussed the policy that has been in place since December, under which non-citizens of Australia can be deported if they had served more than a cumulative year in prison.

At his post-Cabinet news briefing today, he said they also specifically talked about the New Zealanders being held on the remote Christmas Island.

"I don't think New Zealanders should be going to detention centres and what we've really agreed over the weekend is that, one, that process should be eliminated because effectively any New Zealander is now free to come home and process their individual case from New Zealand.

"Secondly, there will be much more resource put into the sort of bow-wave of people who are there because of the threshold change, and that will allow the process to be speeded up, so again that process will happen much more quickly."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key Photo: Getty

He had a message for those New Zealanders in detention centres in Australia.

"The simple message would be, I don't want New Zealanders on Christmas Island, I think they should come home to New Zealand and we'll deal with the application and the processing of their appeals from New Zealand."

He said the government would offer support through the likes of Work and Income and Corrections for any deportees.

Mr Key said Mr Turnbull told him the way some of the detainees on Christmas Island had behaved at other detention centres was one of the reasons they had been sent there.

He said he was told it was not a form of punishment, but was done to separate them from other detainees, and he took Mr Turnbull at his word.

Mr Turnbull has said no special dispensations will be given to New Zealanders facing deportation from Australia.

However, he said more resources will be made available to immigration services, so visa appeals can be processed more quickly and with more compassion.

A file photo of the jetty on Christmas Island (August 2013)

Photo: AAP

Mr Key was asked if he was disappointed not to have secured any further concessions.

"The Australian media reported it as Turnbull softening and New Zealand media reported it as no change, so like everything in life it depends on how you look at it.

"But the point being that our main arguments are not about deportation per se because New Zealand deports people, there are really two issues as I see it.

"One is around the use of detention centres, notwithstanding in the past people in Australia have been sent to detention centres, it's just that there's a lot more people and the threshold was a lot higher so it wasn't the focus of everyone's attention.

"We can eliminate that because they can come home.

"Now, they may not want to come home and they may argue their family's over there and they might have a variety of other reasons but they are free to come home and have all of their appeal processed."

Mr Key said about a third of those who had appealed since the law change in December had been successful, but he refused to disclose how many people that applied to.

'Significant' rise in demand for services

Meanwhile, an Auckland organisation helping Kiwis deported from Australia under the tough new laws is being given a $100,000 boost by the Corrections Department.

PARS is a charitable organisation which helps former prisoners and their families integrate into the community.

A Corrections Department spokesperson said many of the offenders being deported to New Zealand under Australia's new laws had not lived here for many years and had no family or other support.

The money was a short-term solution, to cover PARS through until June next year, it said.

About 170 New Zealand offenders had been deported this year, mainly from Australia, compared with 60-100 in previous years.

PARS Auckland executive director Tui Ah Loo said it had been looking at having to make cutbacks and the extra money would make a big difference.

"We were actually scaling back the service and it would have got to the point where we would have had to have stopped the service completely," she said.

"We weren't able to get out and work with domestic prisoners because the demand coming back in from Australia had just crept up significantly over three months."

Deportees are met at the airport by the police and offered the PARS service, which is a voluntary service and which deportees can decline to use.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs