Key hopeful Turnbull will be reasonable over deportees

Prime Minister John Key (Simong Wong)
Prime Minister John Key (Simong Wong)

Prime Minister John Key is hopeful his Australian counterpart will be reasonable on the issue of deporting New Zealand criminals even though Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is standing firm.

Nearly 200 New Zealanders are being held in Australian detention centres facing deportation under new immigration laws that mean anyone who isn't a citizen and who has served a sentence of 12 months or more can be sent home.

Mr Key hopes to meet new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in "the very foreseeable future" and he thinks Mr Turnbull is a reasonable man.

"I don't actually think the Australian position is sustainable over the very long term and we're going to encourage the new Australian government to consider the matter," Mr Key told TV3's The Nation program on Saturday.

Mr Key said he did not want to push Mr Turnbull into a corner and that leaders needed to be given a chance to change policies "in a way they can preserve their dignity".

"There's got be a chance that we can see some change there - I mean, Malcolm Turnbull is not known for being an unreasonable guy".

On Thursday, Mr Dutton continued to back the policy.

"I'm married to a Kiwi and I have nothing against Kiwis. We welcome thousands of people each year from New Zealand, they're our closest friends and family," he told Channel Nine's A Current Affair program.

"But if people are doing the wrong thing, whether they're from New Zealand or any other country, they can expect to have their visa cancelled and be sent back."

Mr Key said the Australian threshold for deportation was too low.

He said a free labour market existed between the two countries and the better part of 500,000 Kiwis lived in Australia.

"You've got to take a bit of the rough with the smooth," he said.