Lisa Owen Well, there was really only one politics story this week... the plight of New Zealanders in Australian detention centres and the shockwaves it's caused in parliament here. But at the heart of this is Australia's policy and last year's law change that means New Zealand citizens can be deported if they've been sentenced to a year or more in prison... no matter how long they've lived in the country. As cases such as Ko Haapu appear...might they reconsider? Ian Macdonald is a senator from Queensland and the chair of the parliamentary committee that approved that new law. He lays the blame for the Christmas Island riots squarely at the feet of the detainees, but I asked him if that was fair given claims of beatings and Australia's own Human Rights Commissioner warning several months ago that the centre was "dangerous".
Ian Macdonald: Look, we're dealing with very serious criminals. These aren't visa miscreants. In fact, the Immigration Minister has given many public details of just who are there. I have some of them here. 27 people have been convicted of assault, five people with child sex offences, a number of people there, 27 people with drug offences, nine for grievous bodily harm, two for manslaughter, nine for theft, robbery, break and entering, and so it goes on. So these are hardened criminals who are only in Australia at the moment because they are contesting in our courts the deportation orders made against them. Your Prime Minister, the New Zealand Prime Minister, has indicated he will take them back, and the sooner they're out of Australia and into another country, the better for Australians. And so they don't have to be there. They don't like the Christmas Island centre, they can easily go back to New Zealand, but they choose to stay there because they have taken action in the Australian courts to resist their deportation back to their home countries.
But, Senator doesn't this all stem from Australia changing the law last year and taking a harder line? You were part of the committee who worked on those changes, so why did you think it was necessary to do this? Why was the change necessary?
I must say I find this a very strange question. These people are not Australians. They're in Australia by leave and licence of the Australian people. They haven't applied for permanent residence. They haven't applied for citizenship. They are convicted criminals. And we changed the law to say that if people have rejected the hospitality they've been given in Australia by committing these very serious crimes, then all bets are off and they should go back to where they came from. I certainly endorse that, and I can't see that any fair-minded person would have any objection whatsoever to that. You're in Australia under legal…
Sorry to interrupt you, but a couple of points there. When you say that if they can't abide by the laws, then they should go back to where they came from, some of them have been there since they were toddlers, so, in essence, they've grown up in Australia. Australia has moulded them, haven't they?
Well, tell me, why don't they apply for Australian citizenship? If they've been there since they've been toddlers, they've had every opportunity to apply for Australian citizenship, and it's a question you need to ask them, not me.
But isn't the whole point that we have a different relationship? We're supposedly family, Australia and New Zealand. We've got this Anzac history. We have a free labour market – CER. So it's not necessary to apply for citizenship.
We are family, and we as Australians always love our Kiwi cousins, no doubt about that. And for 99.99 percent of New Zealanders here, they are part of the family. But those who go out and commit very, very serious crimes – I mean, these are rape, murder, manslaughter, armed robbery – we don't want them in Australia, and the law has been passed that for any country…
But if they've been raised there, aren't they your responsibility? If they've been raised there, even if they have done something bad, aren't they your responsibility now?
Well, if they're our responsibility, you know, they'll be in jail for a very, very long period of time. But we've made a decision as a nation, and I support it, that we don't want non-Australians, people who aren't Australian citizens, in our country if they themselves have rejected Australian society by committing these crimes, and we want to send them back from whence they came. For most New Zealanders, we love to have them here. They're great friends of ours. But that doesn't give them a licence to come here or even live here most of their lives and commit serious crimes.
You talk about criminals and people breaking the law, but what about Kiwis that haven't broken the law? What about Ko Haapu, who is a man who's locked up, who hasn't broken the law, he doesn't have any criminal convictions, and he's being deported on character grounds?
I'm not sure who you're talking about in an individual case, and I'm happy to give you a view if you explain to me a bit more about who you're talking about.
Well, he's a Kiwi who has an association with a biker gang. He's a former armed serviceman, a decorated soldier, and he was at one point a bodyguard to our Prime Minister. He doesn't have a criminal record, but because of an association with a bikie gang, he is, we're told, being deported. Is that just?
Well, for a start, I'd think if he's done all of those wonderful things in New Zealand, you'd want to welcome him back. The second thing is the minister doesn't do these sort of things just because he doesn't like the look of someone. If this guy – and I don't know the details, I'm sorry – he would've been more than just an innocent bystander in a bikie gang. He would only be deported if he has been convicted of some serious offence with the bikie gang or he has associations with them that the minister believes are not conducive to his remaining in Australia as a guest.
So, if he hasn't done something wrong criminally, if he doesn't have a conviction, would you then back him to stay?
Well, look, it's very difficult for me to talk about an individual case, because I simply don't know the details, and whilst I'm sure you're telling me the truth, I wouldn't comment on an individual case without knowing all the details. But I will say this – the minister doesn't just willy-nilly deport people because he doesn't like the colour of their hair. There are serious reasons why he is advised by his department and by the law enforcement agencies that this person has, in fact, rejected their claim to be in Australia by involving themselves in activities which most Australians do not support and we do not want in our country. And the fact that they're from a nation which is our best friend and the one nation we love above all others doesn't mean to say we make separate laws for criminals from New Zealand that don't apply to criminals from elsewhere.
So, you couldn't envisage, say, a carve-out, a separate case for ANZACs, for the Kiwis – an exception of some sort?
Certainly not. If they are guilty of serious crimes, which most of these who are being deported are. In fact, I don't have the Minister's statistics, but most of the ones that are being deported are those who have engaged in very, very serious criminal activity. They're the sort of people we don't want in Australia, and they're the sort of people who themselves have said by their conduct, 'We shouldn't be allowed to be in the Australian society.'
But then again, Senator, some people have convictions for, say, cannabis from 20 or 30 years ago for shoplifting. Do you think those crimes are serious enough for them to be kicked out of the place that they've called home for decades?
It would be… not for me to make that decision, but I would say with a lot of confidence, you give me a case where someone has been deported because of a shoplifting offence or a 20-year-old cannabis offence. I don't think you'll find too many of them. In fact, if you're prepared to give me the details, I will follow them through.
There are some, Senator, that we know of. Warren Marriner, who has a cannabis conviction from 30 years ago, he's been deported. So there are some that we know of.
Is that why he's been deported? Because he has a 30-year-old cannabis…?
That is what he says, yes, Senator, that he's been deported because of a cannabis conviction.
Not because he's currently a member of some gang or associated with some other…? I mean, I don't know the guy, and I don't want to defame him, and I have to be cautious with what I say, but again, it's very, very difficult, but I'll say this to you or to any of your listeners or to any of those on the deportation list – if they are being deported for 30-year-old cannabis convictions, let me know, and I'll see what I can do to help them, but I would be very confident there would be very, very, very few, if any, people in that category. If they are being deported, they are being deported because of serious criminal activity.
Well, because the retrospective nature of this law means that you can now re-incarcerate people who committed crimes, served their time and may be living law-abiding lives now, though. Isn't that the problem?
Well, again, you make some allegations, and I'm not aware of anyone in a factual situation where that happens – people who are currently being either deported or held in detention pending their court appearances. Now, can I just say, in the instances you raise, I'm pretty sure that when they get before the courts, the courts will find in their favour, and so they will be right.
But should they, Senator, have to be held in a detention centre like Christmas Island while they go through the legal process?
Well, look, I don't want, and I don't think most Australians want, convicted sex offenders, child molesters, murderers, armed robbers at loose in our society when they have those convictions. They should be detained. They don't have to be in the detention centre. They can be back in their country of origin, and if it's New Zealand, your Prime Minister, I'm told, has said he'll take them back. So they have every right to not be in the detention centre. They have chosen to take advantage of the Australian legal system, which they're quite entitled to do, but until a court determines otherwise, neither I nor any other Australian wants these serious criminals roaming around the countryside free.
Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Queensland senator Ian MacDonald. Thank you for your time.
It's my pleasure.
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