Australia has deported the first wave of law-breaking New Zealanders, despite fairly constant disapproval from the John Key government. The Australian Department of Immigration spared no expense chartering a flight this morning for the group of 12 from Christmas Island to Auckland. They arrived at about 10:30 AM.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton described the situation to Macquarie Radio in typically dry terms: "The first 12 people that have had their visas canceled under Section 501 of the [Migration] Act, so they've failed the character test, they've gone back to New Zealand," he said. "We've done a lot of work with the Key government and we have put in place an arrangement where we can return them. So, they're off our soil and they're back in New Zealand."
The Act he's referring to is the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014 which was written in December last year. This made it mandatory to send people back to their countries of birth, if they'd been sentenced to prison sentences totaling 12 months or more. This will potentially affect about 1,000 New Zealanders even though many have lived in Australia most of their lives.
Radio New Zealand met a few deportees as they arrived in Auckland. They described one man with "a very thick Australian accent" who was told to not speak with the media. Then all deportees were chaperoned into awaiting transport and taken to various accommodation.
Counties Manukau District Commander, John Tims, told Radio NZ that individuals had been vetted before their release. "DNA and fingerprints were obtained, and from that we can then make a risk assessment, and then take that information to work together in a multi-agency approach about making sure that when the offenders go back into the community, they are kept safe, but also the general community is kept safe."
Corrections Department NZ had organized accommodation for some but others had organized to stay with friends. Essentially New Zealand is treating the situation as though they're prisoners being released from jail, except that they're actually being subjected to another layer of punishment, after jail.
Australia's policy of deportation has regularly raised the ire of NZ's politicians. Kiwi Labour leader Andrew Little last month told the NZ Herald "this is not how mates treat each other," and called for the appeals process to be sped up.
Similarly Prime Minister John Key warned Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that their neighborly relationship could be at stake. "I said there's a special relationship between New Zealand and Australia and you challenge that, to a degree, when you see New Zealanders being treated in this way," he said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited New Zealand last month, where leaders of both countries reiterated their "special relationship," although Turnbull remained steadfast on his policy of deportation. He told reporters he sympathized with Key's position, but exceptions couldn't be made for Kiwis. "The policy applies to everybody," he said.