They may be close allies, but the latest flare-up in a long-running diplomatic standoff between Australia and Nuova Zelanda has seen relations between the two nations hit an all-time low.
The source of the friction is a controversial deportation policy which Australia uses to deport hundreds of New Zealanders every year. Part of the country’s hardline and oft-criticised immigration policies, the dispute resurfaced last week when the Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton used a television interview to refer to the policy as “taking the trash out”.
It has prompted a furious reaction from its neighbour, with a prominent NZ politician calling Australia a “rogue state” and calling for its actions to be referred to the United Nations.
The latest row between the two countries erupted last week, when Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, referred to the transferring deportees to NZ as “taking the trash out” to “make Australia a safer place”.
Dutton was appearing on an Australian television network, which was given access to film a plane-load of handcuffed deportees as they boarded an aircraft in Brisbane. The reporter asked questions such as: “How does it feel to be kicked out of Australia?"
Among the deportees was a 15-year-old boy.
But the practice, and NZ’s objections to it, has been going since 2014, when Australia introduced changes to its visa laws significantly expanding the so-called “character test” allowing the minister to refuse or cancel the visa of a foreign national on a broad range of grounds.
Those grounds can include a substantial criminal record, whether the minister deems the person may “represent a danger to the Australian community” or if the minister is “satisfied the person is not of good character due to their past and present criminal or general conduct”.
Most significantly though, the changes introduced “mandatory cancellation” of visas for any non-citizen sentenced to 12 months or more imprisonment, even if the prison sentence had occurred years before.
Nel passato, the character test has seen a number of high-profile figures refused entry into Australia. Nel 2015 US singer Chris Brown had his visa application formally denied by Dutton on character grounds.
But the changes have overwhelmingly affected NZ citizens.
This week in the Australian parliament Dutton boasted that since the new rules were introduced the visas of about 6,300 “non-citizen criminals” had been cancelled.
Though he pointed to the cancellation of 309 visas relating to “rape and other sexual offences”, the department’s own figures show the most common reason for a visa to be cancelled is a drug offence. Those offences made up about 23% of all cancellations between 1 luglio 2019 per 30 giugno 2020.
There are about 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, many of who have lived in the country for much of their lives. It means the policy has had a disproportionate effect on Kiwis.
del 2021 non-citizens deported in the same 12-month period between 1 luglio 2019 e 30 giugno 2020, 477 were from New Zealand. The second highest was the UK, con 99. Nel 2020 Stuff reported internal government figures which stated that about 2,000 people had been deported to NZ from Australia since 2014.
The policy has proven especially controversial in NZ because many of the people that Australia has deported to NZ have not lived there for decades. Nel 2019 Stuff reported the case of Lee Barber, who had moved to Australia from NZ in 1978 as a 10-year-old.
After a series of drug offences, Barber was deported to NZ despite not having set foot in the country for more than 40 anni.
“I’m an Australian through and through,” he told Stuff. “I feel like a refugee.”
In another case, the Australian government sought to deport an Indigenous man to NZ despite him having no ties to the country. Anziché, the man had been born there while his parents were visiting on holiday more than 30 years earlier.
The policy has become an increasing point of tension between two countries that have traditionally shared an extremely close friendship.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has not been shy about voicing her disapproval of the policy. Nel 2019, during a visit to the country by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, she used a joint press conference between the two to point out the impact the policy was having on the bond between the two nations.
“In my view, this issue has become corrosive in a relationship over time," Ardern said.
“I’ve made it clear that New Zealand has no issue with Australia taking a dim view of newly arrived non-citizens committing crimes … but equally, the New Zealand people have a dim view of the deportation of people who move to Australia as children and have grown up there.”
The following February, Ardern stepped up her criticism. In another awkward joint press conference, this time in Australia with the country’s iconic Harbour Bridge in the background, the NZ prime minister accused Morrison of deporting “your people and your problems” using “unfair” policies.
“You have deported more than 2,000 individuals, and among them will be genuine Kiwis who do need to learn the consequences of their actions," lei disse.
“But among those 2,000 are individuals who are too young to become criminals on our watch, they were too young to become patched gang members, too young to be organised criminals. We will own our people. We ask that Australia stops exporting theirs.”
Australia though has continued the practice, and last week’s provocative interview by Dutton has prompted a bi-partisan wave of condemnation in NZ.
The country’s Greens party foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, accused Australia of behaving like an “outlier” and “rogue nation”, and said the issue should be taken to the United Nations.
“It is time for all what we call like-minded nations to recognise that Australia is actually behaving like a rogue nation, as we call countries who very consistently flout human rights laws, and raise this in our international forums, have our allies join together with us to condemn this and put pressure on Australia to start behaving like a good global citizen," lei disse.
Similarly the opposition National party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee, said the deportation was “pretty appalling” while the party’s leader, Judith Collins, suggested NZ should retaliate with a deportation policy of its own.
Despite the impact the policy has had on its relationship with its closest ally, Australia has offered no indication that it plans to change course.
Speaking in parliament this week, Dutton said Australia made “no apology” for the policy.
Dutton said the government had a policy of “cancelling visas of dangerous criminals, of people that have committed serious offences against Australian citizens”.
He said Australia’s ruling Coalition party had changed the law in 2014, “because we were quite amazed when we came in to government and saw the fact that very few people, particularly those who had committed the most heinous offences against children and women and men in this country, were allowed to stay in our country and to repeat those offences against further victims”.
“So we make no apology for having ramped up that program and done it in a dramatic way,” Dutton said.
Ardern has not yet responded to the calls to refer Australia to the UN, but NZ’s Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, labelled it a “deplorable move by the Australian government, which we completely disagree with”.
“Having said that – they are entitled to do it," Egli ha detto.