8 Aug 2019

Aussies toughen up on deportees

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 8 August 2019
A New Zealand mother of six says guards used excessive force against her.

A New Zealand mother of six says guards used excessive force against her. Photo: Supplied/refugeeaction.org

Trans-Tasman relations are facing a new threat, with Australian politicians moving to tighten up deportation policy that has already led to hundreds of people being sent back to New Zealand.

A rule change in late 2014 meant non-citizens sentenced to a year in prison could be sent back to their home country.

Due to the relaxed visa rules between New Zealand and Australia, and the resulting migration that occurs between the two countries, the policy disproportionately affects New Zealanders.

Many of those sent back have spent most of their lives away from New Zealand and speak with Australian accents, landing on local soil with little but the clothes on their back.

A Canberra-based political reporter for SBS, Rosemary Bolger, said the policy has been a point of contention between the two countries since its introduction, which could be made worse if proposals seeking to strengthen it go through.

“The proposed changes that have been tabled in legislation mean anyone who’s been convicted of a crime that carries a maximum sentence of at least two years would fail the character test.

“As a result of that change, while it’s difficult to know the exact numbers, that would encompass many, many more people.” The legislation would also, unusually, be retrospective.

While the issue makes New Zealand headlines frequently, Bolger said it was not widely reported in Australia.

“Even these latest changes… have gone pretty much under the radar.

“It just isn’t something that seems to get a lot of traction in the wider community.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did raise the changes during her recent trip over the Ditch, dubbing the policy “corrosive” to the relationship between Australia and New Zealand.

But Ms Bolger said the Australian government was not changing its tune.

“The government’s refusing to budge. You could say from these latest proposals, if anything they’re doubling down.”

The first flight full of so-called ‘501s’ – nicknamed after the section of policy they were deported under - landed in New Zealand in late 2015.

The police were bracing for their arrival and told New Zealand Herald investigative reporter Jared Savage that it was ‘inevitable’ the deportations would lead to Australian gangs forming branches here.

“Police see the Australian gangs as elevating the professionalism of the gangs here ... they sort of see them as a game changer.”

However, Mr Savage makes the point that they’re not all hardened criminals.

“If you come over here, and you’ve got no job prospects and no money, but you know somebody who’s in that world, you’re more likely to gravitate towards them and get involved in what they’re doing.”

He says a lot of people are detained before being sent back and the only people they know when they arrive in New Zealand are the people they met at the detention centre.

Photo: RNZ