Since 1973, the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) has been set up between Australia and New Zealand. Although, there’s been some changes to the agreement over time, it still allows for the free movement of citizens between each of the countries enabling them to visit, work and live.
For decades, there’s been a perception that Australia and New Zealand share a special bond and it’s due to these kinship sentiments that these laxed immigration laws are available for the citizens of both nations.
As of June 30 2013, there were an estimated 640,770 New Zealand citizens in Australia.
However, since 2015 the number of Kiwis in the country has dramatically declined, as the Australian government started deporting hundreds of them back to New Zealand. And some of these “honorary Aussies” have been living here practically their entire lives.
Length of stay means nothing
Take Pio Steve. In January, he was sitting in Villawood Detention Centre waiting to be sent back over the ditch. The 49-year-old moved to Australia when he was just 13 months old and all his immediate family live in this country.
The detainee had spent two and a half years and around $12,000 appealing the decision to be sent back to a country where he doesn’t know anyone. But last December, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia gave its final decision and ordered him to be turfed out.
Admittedly, Mr Steve doesn’t have the cleanest record, but you’d think that after having lived in a country for over 47 years – and you’d been here since you were a baby – that country might take some responsibility for you.
Strengthening the immigration laws
In December 2014, the Australian government made amendments to the Migration Act, which lowered the threshold of the “character grounds” of the legislation.
Under the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014, it’s now mandatory to send people back to their countries of birth, after being sentenced to terms that total 12 months or more.
Prior to these changes, a non-citizen could be deported after accumulated sentences that added up to two or more years. So the government effectively lowered the bar on what sort of offences can warrant deportation, as it’s far easier for minor offences to accumulate now.
And of course, being sentenced to prison for a crime you’ve committed is the punishment the laws of the country have deemed necessary. Being deported back to a country that’s not your home, after you’ve served that time in prison, is a second punishment.
The number of Kiwi detainees skyrockets
This law applies to all non-citizens, not just New Zealanders. But it appears that Kiwis have been the worst affected by these changes since they came into effect.
As of January 31 this year, New Zealanders made up the largest group – or 14.1 percent – of people being held in Australia’s onshore immigration detention facilities, according to Department of Immigration and Border Protection statistics.
That’s 190 people who were born in New Zealand currently sitting in limbo in the nation’s various detention centres, often waiting for months to have their appeals heard, as well as being isolated from their families and legal support.
NZ detainees have reported acts of violence and a lack of medical treatment available within the detention centres.
And these figures have been growing steadily since the amendments were first made. In July 2015, New Zealanders made up 8.2 percent of overall detainees. In March 2015, it was 4.5 percent, whereas back in February that same year, Kiwis didn’t rate amongst the top nine groups in detention.
Local Kiwi lobbying
Natasha Maynard is the secretary of OZ Kiwi, the peak body representing New Zealanders in Australia. According to Ms Maynard, since the laws have changed, hundreds of New Zealanders have been deported. And if you include those in detention now, she puts it up to closer to 1,000.
Amongst the local Kiwi community there’s a lot of disappointment with the Australian government given the very close bilateral and social links between the nations, Ms Maynard told Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
The Kiwi lobbyist pointed out that a lot of people don’t actually realise that the two countries have such strong ties, sharing a common labour and economic market, under the TTTA and the ANZCERTA – a bilateral free trade agreement established on January 1 1983.
“There’s a real push at the moment to move the countries into a single economic market,” Ms Maynard explained, so “it’s a little bit ironic that this sort of economic move is antithetical to the current migration law.”
Integrating/reintegrating into your birth country
On what it’s been like for those that have been deported, Ms Maynard outlined that some have had a smooth transition, but others “are just struggling.” And then there’s been some reoffending, mainly from more “high-scale criminal” offenders.
But that’s been another criticism levelled at Australia’s deportation policy, it’s dumping potentially dangerous criminals onto another country’s doorstep.
When the new policy got underway the Australian government didn’t even notify their New Zealand counterparts that these people were going to start arriving. But once the arrivals began, the NZ government put systems into place.
“There’s an organisation called PARS and they’ve been given funding by the New Zealand government to help integrate them back into the community,” Ms Maynard explained.
PARS provides vital support to deportees who show up in a country they may not have been to for years and have no real connection with. Their website says that they’re receiving about three deportees a week.
Australian immigration laws
The UN Human Rights Committee condemned Australia’s practice of deporting non-citizens as a violation of international law back in 2011. This was in relation to the 2006 deportation of Stefan Nystrom, who’d arrived in the country at three weeks old and was deported back to Sweden at the age of 33.
In New Zealand, they have a tiered deportation system that takes into account how long a person has lived there and the seriousness of their crimes. And a non-citizen cannot be deported after 10 years of living in the country.
As for Ms Maynard, she doesn’t think the government was targeting New Zealanders. She believes they didn’t even consider the real consequences of the amendments they were making to the Migration Act.
“This is about diverting attention away from the core issues that are going on in this country,” she concluded, listing high unemployment, healthcare, education and infrastructure, as more important things the government could concentrate on “than a handful of so-called criminals.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.