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In recent bilateral talks between the Australian and New Zealand governments, Prime Minister Ardern voiced her frustrations with Australia’s treatment of New Zealand migrants. While highlighting the reality that New Zealand migrants are unable to fully contribute to Australian society, she said to Prime Minister Morrison at a press conference “do not deport your people, or your problems”.
Affirming that while both nations are within their rights to deport foreigners, Ardern highlighted that many ‘New Zealand’ deportees with criminal records were being unfairly returned to a nation they hadn’t lived in for decades. Reintegration back into New Zealand society is difficult as deportees often lacked the support networks of people they otherwise would have to get by, like their family and friends back in Australia. Ardern stated that over 2000 ‘New Zealand’ deportees have been affected since Australia’s migration laws were changed in 2014, most of whom were too young or integrated into Australian society to be considered New Zealand criminals. However, instead of souring the conference by focusing on this issue, Ardern reaffirmed that New Zealand “will continue to maintain rights for Australians in New Zealand” while hoping to find a solution to this problem with its closest ally. Morrison, later taking media questions, simply stated that he believed both nations would make decisions in their national interests, seemingly ignoring Ardern’s belief that this problem was “corrosive” to the New Zealand-Australia relationship.
While this is not the first time other countries have taken advantage of New Zealand’s values, it is difficult to argue that this unilateral policy of deporting criminals from Australia, who have little to do with New Zealand, will not have a prolonged negative impact as Ardern stated. Although both nations have different and vigorous requirements for citizenship (though Australia’s is generally seen to be harder to gain), the bulk of this issue has been caused by a tougher approach to deportation through Australia’s 2014 Migration Act amendments. The Guardian last year reported that anything from ‘national security’ to being convicted with one year sentence or longer is grounds for deportation, even if the deportee was a permanent Australian residence. New Zealand, while having a similar approach, scales offences with time spent in the country to the appropriateness of deportation. Critically, New Zealand also allows appeals, whereas The Guardian reported that Australia was outright cancelling visas on “suspicion of criminal activity”. Australia definitely has its share of immigration problems, but as New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister later quipped in The Australian “we had a mass murderer come to this country from Australia, did we make a song and dance… about that?”.
Needless to write, as a New Zealander, the special relationship with Australia will not improve if this policy is continued. Although there is a clear power dynamic that dictates what a country can pursue relative to their strength, the fact that New Zealand treats permanent residences fairer in rights and access, compared to Australia’s relative legislation, speaks volumes about both nations’ priorities. Though both have supported each other in the recent disasters, as Ardern highlighted, it would be nice if we could have a reciprocal relationship without descending into “a race to the bottom”. That way, maybe we could forge better outcomes for all our peoples, despite where they originally came from.