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Deportation of New Zealand Citizens

In the last five years, around 1500 citizens of New Zealand have been deported from Australia after being found guilty of criminal offences in Australia. Deportations of New Zealand citizens increased sharply after the amendment of the Migration Act in 2014, which gave the minister broader powers to cancel visas and amended the character test. Many of the New Zealanders deported under the changes have lived in Australia for a long time and have few if any ties to New Zealand. Some of these people have had to leave behind everyone they know.

The changes to the migration system have been widely criticised as damaging to the bilateral relationship between Australia and New Zealand and as an attempt to dump problems created by Australia onto New Zealand. However, Scott Morrison recently affirmed his commitment to the new laws and said they would not be changing.

What are the laws?

In 2014, the Migration Act was amended to make it easier for non-citizens to be refused a visa or for an existing visa to be cancelled. The changes were made to the act were as follows:

  • The grounds on which a person could fail the character test under Section 501 were broadened to allow the minister to require state and territory government agencies to disclose information that may be used to identify non-citizens who are liable for visa cancellation.
  • The minister’s powers to cancel visas were broadened, making it easier for visas to be cancelled on character grounds.
  • The amendment introduced mandatory cancellation of visas in the situation where the visa holder has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more (or several periods of imprisonment adding up to a total of 12 months or more) or where they have been found guilty of a child sex offence.

The changes were introduced by Scott Morrison, who was Immigration Minister at the time. He protection of the community and the need to maintain ‘integrity of the migration program’. Morrison said that the Australian government should cancel the visas of a non-citizen who does not abide by Australian laws or who fails to uphold the standards of behaviour that the Australian community expects.

What are the consequences?

The laws apply equally to all non-citizens. However, New Zealanders have been disproportionately affected by the laws, with more than 1500 deportations of New Zealand citizens occurring since the laws were passed. Some of those deported had lived their whole lives in Australia and had never even been to New Zealand. A lot of NZ citizens are now detained in Australia’s immigration detention centres, while their legal challenges to the decision to deport them are processed. 

Reported cases of NZ citizens who have been deported have included those with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses who had no ties to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s response

Under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, free movement between Australia and New Zealand has been allowed since 1973, allowing Kiwis to visit, or live and work in Australia and for Australian to live and work in New Zealand. Citizens of Australia and New Zealand have long enjoyed easy access to their neighbour based on a sense that the two countries share a special bond.

Voices in the New Zealand community have expressed disappointment with the Australian government’s changes to its laws and their impact on Kiwis, saying that the new laws undermine the strong links between the countries.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has condemned the laws, saying they are ‘corrosive in our relationship’ and that New Zealanders take a dim view of the deportation of people who have always lived in Australia.

The Secretary of Oz Kiwi, Natasha Maynard, has said that the laws were passed to divert attention from real problems facing Australia, such as unemployment, healthcare and education rather than because of any real problem with criminal offending by non-citizens.

Which country should bear responsibility for criminal behaviour?

The issue raises the broader question of which country ought to take responsibility for criminal behaviour and other problems that have developed whilst a person with NZ citizenship was living in Australia or vice versa. Some of the people deported have committed more offences after arriving in New Zealand and some New Zealanders perceiving the deportations as making Australian-grown offenders New Zealand’s problem.

Under New Zealand law, non-citizens cannot be deported if they have lived for more than ten years in the country. Prime Minister Ardern has consistently argued that deportations of NZ citizens should occur only where the person has genuine links to New Zealand.

The UN Human Rights Committee condemned Australia’s deportation of long-term residents as a breach of international law back in 2011.

If you require legal advice or representation in an immigration law matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Tanguy Mwilambwe - National Practice Director - Brisbane

This article was written by Tanguy Mwilambwe - National Practice Director - Brisbane

Tanguy is the National Practice Director in the areas of Administrative Law and Immigration Law. He is able to assist clients in court matters throughout most Australian jurisdictions, in relation to Administrative and Immigration decisions. Tanguy has appeared in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Federal Court of Australia, state courts (including Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts)...

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