Australian authorities deported a minor to New Zealand as part of a program home affairs minister Peter Dutton described as “taking the trash out”.
The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, confirmed that one of the people deported from Australia earlier this month was under the age of 18, but said she was not aware of any further details about the case.
The 15-year-old was deported under the controversial scheme which the Australian government uses to deport non-citizens determined to have a “substantial criminal record” under the character test in section 501 of the Australian Migration Act.
Ardern has repeatedly criticised Australia for using the law to deport New Zealand citizens who are long-term residents of Australia.
She told reporters on Monday that she had sought further information to make sure the child’s case was handled appropriately.
“I’ve only just become aware that … within the group of 501s that we had returned recently that there was what we would consider to be a minor in that group,” she said. “Of course we would have an expectation that regardless of the background that we do treat minors in a particular way when we’re dealing with deportation.”
Ardern said New Zealand had “never agreed with the policy”.
She said she had not spoken to Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, about the issue and had not scheduled a call to do so, saying: “We actually don’t tend to schedule calls.”
“He knows my position on the deportation policy,” she said. “So actually regardless of whether or not we’re dealing with a minor or someone who’s older, I have a specific objection to the fact that we have people being deported from Australia who we consider to be Australians.”
Dutton’s description of deportation flights as “taking the trash out” caused a political furore in New Zealand, with the foreign minister, Nania Mahuta, saying Dutton’s remarks “only serve to trash his own reputation” and were “a reflection on his own character”.
The department of home affairs refused to confirm whether one of the recent deportees was under the age of 18, but said that the visa of a non-citizen “must be cancelled” if they are either serving a full-time term of imprisonment or have ever been sentenced to a period of at least 12 months imprisonment, “regardless of their age or nationality”.
“The department complies with its legal obligations in circumstances where the removal of a minor is considered, including those under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” a spokesperson said. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa will be liable for detention and removal from Australia.”