Commonwealth Ombudsman releases scathing reports on treatment of Kiwis in Australian detention centres
Australia's tough stance on Kiwis in detention centres won't change because it would be "an admission that what they're doing is wrong," says Labour's corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has produced two scathing reports on practices by Australian immigration authorities, that reveal a huge spike in the number of New Zealanders being sent home and failed promises around early visa cancellations. As a result large numbers of Kiwis are being left in limbo in detention centres after serving their time in prison.
New measures introduced by the Australian government in 2014, contained in section 501 of the Migration Act, provide for the mandatory cancellation of visas for any foreign national sentenced to at least one year's jail, or those convicted of sex offences against children.
The tough new stance has been a point of tension between Australia and New Zealand, and in October 2015 former New Zealand prime minister John Key raised the issue with Malcolm Turnbull, citing the cases of hundreds of Kiwis facing deportation and being held for months in detention while their claims were processed.
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The Ombudsman found immigration authorities had failed to cancel visas well before the estimated date of a prisoner's release. The result was a "prolonging family separation" and breaking a promise to prioritise the best interests of young children affected by visa cancellations.
But Davis, who has travelled to Christmas Island where more than 200 Kiwis are still being held in detention, said the policy of keeping them there breached human rights and made no fiscal sense.
"It's double jeopardy. They've done their time in prison and then they're being punished again by being held in detention centres for months. Double jeopardy shouldn't exist in any country."
"It's been a stupid policy from the outset," he said.
"Nothing's going to change over there because that would be an admission that what they're doing is wrong."
For the Australian government it was "political gold" to be seen to be coming down hard on foreigners who are committing crimes.
While the issue isn't a "high priority" for the New Zealand government, Davis said regardless of whether those affected are "Australian in their hearts" they're still Kiwis and the government should be "standing up for New Zealanders and human rights".
The number of people deported from Australia because of serious criminal convictions has increased more than tenfold since 2014, the Ombudsman found.
The review of section 501 of the Migration Act considered the treatment of people who have their Australian visas cancelled because of crimes resulting in more than 12 months' imprisonment, finding the number of visas cancelled shot up from 76 in 2013-14 to 983 in the last financial year.
Of the 1219 non-citizens who had their visas cancelled between January 2014 and February 2016, 697 were from New Zealand and 124 were from Britain, many of whom have been in Australia since childhood.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government made no apologies for strengthening deportation laws "to further protect the Australian community".
"Since the laws were strengthened, the government has cancelled the visas of serious criminals including 158 visas for child sex offences, 361 for assault, 78 for rape and 33 for murder, to name a few."
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was unavailable to comment but a spokesperson for the ministry said, "Australia's deportations policy as it relates to New Zealanders has been and will remain a matter of ongoing discussion between our two governments."