Prisoner advocate slams Aust MP Peter Dutton for calling 'kind, caring' 501 deportees 'trash'

A New Zealand prisoner advocate has condemned Australia's Home Affairs Minister for calling 501 deportees "trash", saying many of them are "kind, caring, genuine people who just need a chance" but comments like Dutton's may cause them to re-offend.

Australia's deportation programme has resumed for the year, with the first planeload of criminals leaving Brisbane for Auckland this week.

The journey made headlines when a reporter, who was allowed on the tarmac, hounded the deportees.

"Our country doesn't want you, are you excited to go home?" he said.

Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton then went on to criticize the deportees.

"It's taking the trash out, then we can make Australia a safer place," he said.

But New Zealand Prisoners' Aid and Rehabilitation Society manager Aimee Reardon told Newshub many of the prisoners are suffering from depression and anxiety, on top of dealing with the grief of leaving loved ones and the systems that they know.

"They have been forced into a country which for a lot of them is really foreign and they are really vulnerable. So comments like that only intensify their feelings, and their negative feelings and they fuel public perception. They are aware of that. 

"Personally I think for a minister to refer to any human being as being "trash" is appalling, especially as this particular minister doesn't appear to understand the specific circumstances of these people he is referring to. I think that ultimately these comments fuel feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that ultimately contribute to the portion of these people who do offend and re-offend in New Zealand." 

Reardon said some media outlets are portraying the prisoners as the worst offenders - rapists, murderers - but many have only made "minor mistakes" and aren't horrible people.

"It's just about remembering that these deportees are people and we all make mistakes," she said. 

"Just because a minister or a policy paints these people as being a certain way - that's not the case. I know a lot of these people and most of them are kind, caring, genuine people who just need a chance to stay with their families and live their lives."

She said she can understand deporting people who have committed serious or repeated offences - "but that is not the case with many of these people".

"Most of them have spent their whole lives in Australia, they have been raised in Australia and have spent decades contributing to their economy and communities and have made a relatively minor mistake. New Zealand isn't their home."