Sunday, May 9, 2021
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HomePolitical"Putting Out The Trash" Makes For Callous Politics

“Putting Out The Trash” Makes For Callous Politics

The issue of deporting people who have completed
sentences in prison for criminal offences is a vexed one. It
has been brought sharply into focus by the application of
Australia’s so-called s501 policy which since 2014 has
seen the deportation to New Zealand of around 2,000 people
who had previously been sentenced to a term of twelve months
or more in prison. Events over the last week regarding the
apparent deportation of a 15-year-old child have sharpened
that focus further and aroused some anger, although the
precise circumstances of that case are still somewhat

It is an accepted principle that countries
have the right to send home convicted criminals who are
neither citizens nor residents and many countries do so. New
Zealand, for example, allows a residents or other form of
visa to be cancelled and a person sent home if they have
been sentenced to a term of three months or more in

But that is not the point at issue here. The
objections to Australia’s deportation policy are less
because of the policy itself and much more about the harsh
and indiscriminate way it has been applied under both Labor-
and Liberal-led governments. Often people have been deported
to New Zealand after lifetimes in Australia, having left New
Zealand as babies or small children, and with few remaining
family connections in New Zealand.

Australian Home
Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s callous analogy to putting
out the trash may resonate well with his domestic electorate
but exemplifies the contemptuous approach Australia has
always taken to this issue. Australia’s response that it
is simply putting the safety and welfare of its own citizens
first does not justify treating those who do not fit as
vermin. Their approach is completely out of step with a
wider world that no longer tolerates discrimination against
minorities in this way.

I was Minister of Internal
Affairs at the time when the deportation flights commenced.
The first flight had not even obtained clearance to land in
New Zealand prior to arriving, causing some panic in civil
aviation and Foreign Affairs circles before it was finally
permitted to land here. Moreover, the Australian authorities
had made little effort to ensure any of the deportees on
that flight had valid papers to enter New Zealand, leaving
Internal Affairs and Immigration officials literally
scrambling to process arrivals on the tarmac. Such was the
contempt that underpinned the Australian approach.

difficulty all along has been that from a sovereignty
standpoint Australia is following the provisions of its own
law as passed by its Federal Parliament. The issue is
therefore not a legal one, but a moral one, and Australia
has shown itself to be utterly deaf to any criticism of

It is symptomatic of the wider approach Australia
has been taking since the early 2000s to New Zealanders who
have made their homes in Australia. Despite the annual
ritualistic invocation of the special relationship between
the two countries each ANZAC Day, Australia has been moving
steadily to ensure that New Zealanders living in Australia
are treated no differently from any other non-Australian
residents. The problem is, though, as the deportation policy
typifies, because of the large number of New Zealanders
living in Australia – well over half a million at last
count – and the basic similarity of our cultures, treating
New Zealanders no differently from other non-Australian
residents is actually a form of discrimination.

is what makes the issue political and is why successive
Prime Ministers from Helen Clark onwards have been vocal in
their remonstrations to Australia about the policy’s
adverse impact on New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern has gone so
far as to describe it as a “corrosive” factor. However,
reports this week that New Zealand did not raise its
concerns with the United Nations when it was reviewing
Australia’s human rights policy detract from this

Be all that as it may, New Zealand is right
to take the moral high ground approach it has since the
early 2000s and to push for better treatment for its
citizens resident in Australia. While the brutal candour of
Peter Dutton’s comments suggest the current Australian
government is a lost cause, it is more worrying that the
Opposition Labor Party is showing little enthusiasm to turn
things around. But then deportation policy began during its
last term in government.

So, it seems an awful
bipartisan consensus is emerging about New Zealand,
reflecting once more the maxim that “all politics are
local”. As long as the approach remains popular with
Australian voters, as currently appears to be the case, the
harsh reality is that awful consensus will prevail. More New
Zealanders will be deprived of access to government health
and welfare services in Australia, despite being taxpayers
there, and more petty criminals will be deported to a
country that while theirs by birth, they may have never

It will be fascinating to see how Scott
Morrison justifies this modern Australian interpretation of
“mateship” and the “Spirit of ANZAC” this April

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