The BulletinJune 12, 2024

Australia’s hardline deportation policy and what it means for the government


New polling shows crime is becoming more of a concern for New Zealanders, writes Stewart Sowman-Lund in this extract from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

A threat to our closest relationship

We talked yesterday about the diplomatic tightrope about to be walked by prime minister Christopher Luxon as he prepares to meet with one of China’s highest officials in Wellington. But there’s another diplomatic issue rearing its head, one that has already risked damaging our strongest global relationship. Last week it was confirmed that Australia would be toughening its stance on 501 deportations, as we touched on earlier in the week. The Spinoff’s Gabi Lardies has written a helpful explainer on what’s happened, explaining that “501s” has become shorthand for individuals deported from Australia under Section 501 of the Australian Migration Act, which allows a migrant’s visa to be cancelled if they fail a “character test”. It’s meant that thousands of people born in New Zealand but for all intents and purposes Australian have been sent back here, usually after being convicted of various, often minor, crimes. The 501 policy has been a thorn in the side of the trans-Tasman relationship, and today we’re going to look at why.

How we ended up here

Writing for The Post last week, Luke Malpass said that the problem of 501s at one point seemed confined to history. As he noted, the deportation scheme had been an issue for prime ministers John Key through Jacinda Ardern until a deal was struck in July 2022 to end the programme through something known as “direction 99”. That meant immigration officials would have to give weight to a potential deportee’s relationship with Australia before deciding to cancel their visa. But under pressure over a rise of would-be-deportees avoiding deportation, and after being accused of having a “sycophantic relationship” with Jacinda Ardern, Anthony Albanese has caved. As The Guardian reported, Australian immigration minister Andrew Giles announced new rules that emphasised community protection and “strengthening our cancellation system to better reflect community expectations”. The Science Media Centre has canvassed experts on Australia’s decision, with Auckland University’s Tim Fadgen saying the hardening position on 501 deportees is “surprising only in its apparently abrupt return to its earlier policy position”.

What this means

RNZ’s Jessie Chiang spoke to a woman facing possible deportation from Australia earlier in the week who said it was “devastating” to learn she may be forced out of the country she’s lived in since the age of six. “It’s destroying lives, it’s destroying families and we’re all suffering.” Newshub’s Emma Cropper had a similar story last week, speaking to a man in detention who moved from New Zealand to Australia at just seven months old. He’s facing deportation for causing a major crash after running a red light. As Cropper reported, no alcohol or drugs are alleged to be involved. “I’ve got no one at all in New Zealand, I’ve never been there, don’t know anything about the place. I’ve lived my whole life here,” the deportee said. Stories like this have been common in our media for the past decade. In 2022, The Spinoff’s Don Rowe examined some of the harm caused by the deportation policy up until that point, following on from a personal feature he had written four years earlier looking at one particular case. As Rowe noted, the increase in 501 deportations has been linked to an escalation in gang crimes, though this Stuff long read from 2022 is a helpful reminder that not all deportees are causing issues here. The Post’s Thomas Manch has reported that even though Australia softened its deportation programme for two years, the crime wave in New Zealand did not ease.

Crime is becoming more and more worrying for New Zealanders

When prime minister Christopher Luxon learned about Australia’s new stance on deportations, he told reporters: “It’s just not right that people who have no connection to New Zealand are deported to New Zealand.” But beyond the morality, there’s a political concern for the coalition. In 2022, Luxon told TVNZ’s Breakfast that a “tough on crime” approach was needed for deportees who ended up bolstering crime in New Zealand. “They are creating much more misery, pain, they’re peddling drugs. That’s impacting all families across New Zealand,” he said.

Luxon and his coalition partners were elected last year with a tough on crime mantra, something he made clear on every stop of his nationwide pre-election tour. In recent weeks, the government has announced new prison funding and unveiled an anti-gang taskforce. Despite this, RNZ reported on a public meeting in Auckland where the police minister was confronted by frustrated locals. A recent Ipsos poll showed concern about crime had risen to become the second most important issue for New Zealanders, as Newshub’s Amelia Wade first reported, above healthcare and housing. A Curia poll for the Taxpayers’ Union released yesterday showed 21.8% of those surveyed put law and order as one of their top three issues. That same poll, as the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reported, showed a closing gap between the left and the right, along with Chris Hipkins rising in popularity above Luxon.

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