Australia's deportation policy not just 'corrosive', it's 'abusive' - deportee

Australia's infamous deportation policy isn't just "corrosive" as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put it, it's "abusive", according to a man sent back to New Zealand under the scheme.

Section 501 of Australia's Migration Act, and the effect it has on Kiwis across the ditch, is back in the spotlight after National proposed New Zealand should have a similar policy

The section allows someone in Australia to be deported back to their home country if they don't pass a character test. A common reason someone may fail that test is if someone has a substantial criminal record, which could mean they have been imprisoned for more than 12 months, among other reasons. 

Jacinda Ardern famously called the policy "corrosive" to the New Zealand-Australia relationship, with more than 1500 Kiwis sent back since 2014, including people who lived across the Tasman for decades with little connection to Aotearoa. National's Simon Bridges doesn't agree, and can't "see a good reason not to" implement a similar policy.

'A product of Australia'

Adrian Soloman-Maere is one of the many Kiwis deported under Section 501 and spoke to The AM Show about how it broke him.

Having moved to Australia in 1987, Soloman-Maere was deported last August after failing to meet the character test. He says he spent time in prison when he was charged with drink-driving before being moved to an immigration centre on Christmas Island. 

"I didn't meet the character test," he told The AM Show. 

"It has been a long journey. Christmas Island, I spent 18 months on Christmas Island. You don't know what is going to happen to you. You're bundled up in the middle of the night and you don't know where you're going."

Soloman-Maere is now separated from his two daughters and is struggling to fit in in a country he hasn't been part of for more than three decades. His only close relation here is his sister and he is yet to find a job, instead focusing on trying to establish himself in a new system.

"I'm trying to find me. I'm trying to work with how New Zealand is. I am a product of Australia, not New Zealand. I am trying to get used to the system here.

"I embraced the Australian lifestyle. I loved it. Here, [I'm] a Kiwi. [But] Australia is home to me."

Australia's deportation policy not just 'corrosive', it's 'abusive' - deportee
Photo credit: The AM Show / Getty.

'Abusive' policy

Filipa Payne, co-founder of Iwi n Aus - a group that advocates for New Zealanders living in Australia - first met the man while he was on Christmas Island. Iwi n Aus is a group that advocates for New Zealanders living in Australia. It wants to ensure Kiwis across the ditch receive the same treatment that Australians get in Aotearoa. 

"[He was] seeing people self-harming, being completely brutalised through a system that is harsh and demeaning and a system that is designed to break people," she told The AM Show.

"It is very brutal...It is all up to one person. One person in Australia has that right to decide that you might not be of good character because he might not agree with your opinions, and that is not democracy."

The full list of reasons for why a person may not pass the character test can be found here.

Ardern has previously spoken to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the policy, but got no concessions. She later ruled out any retaliation against it. It's been reported she will raise the issue again with Morrison during a meeting this week.

Payne said New Zealand's leaders need to be doing more.

"At the moment, we have a Prime Minister standing up stronger than any other Prime Minister using the word 'corrosive', we'd actually like to see that come forward, it's abusive," she said.

"New Zealand is a country that I believe wholeheartedly in. I believe our country can make a vital impact on what is going on for this."

Soloman-Maere agrees "it's abusive". He also described it as "abhorrent".

"It doesn't matter if you had a conviction 25 years ago, and you make one mistake, they accumulate it and if it adds up to 12 months, what they say is you have an extensive criminal record."

Payne said she has met with the Human Rights Commissioner and not-for-profit groups trying to find a way to ensure greater support for deportees when they get back to New Zealand. She says many fall into homelessness and don't have a chance to get on their feet. 

On Monday, Ardern criticised Bridges for proposing a similar policy, saying New Zealand already has the ability to deport those with criminal convictions if it wanted to. 

With Australia, she said, it's a "matter of principle and a matter of proportion". 

In terms of proportion - Ardern said there are roughly 62,000 Australians living in New Zealand compared to around 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia.

"My view is, if we think this policy is wrong, why would we then repeat it?

"My position is that we must do and continue to do everything we can to make the point that what Australia is doing is wrong and the best way I can continue to make that is not by replicating something that I don't agree with."

The Australian policy has been blamed for a rise of organised crime in New Zealand, with many deported from Australia being gang members. They are often referred to as 501s, referencing the specific section of the Australian Migration Act.

Following a series of violent incidents in Tauranga earlier this month, the city's mayor Tenby Powell told Newshub that there was a correlation between a spike in violence and the arrivals of the so-called 501s. 

"Things have changed. Not just here in Tauranga but in New Zealand.  With the 501 deportees coming out of Australia, the level of sophistication they bring, the level of violence they bring, and the frequency of which we're seeing it."