Winston Peters blasts Australian MP who implied Jacinda Ardern was vote-seeking by condemning deportation policy

Winston Peters has hit back at an Australian MP who suggested Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was trying to win votes by speaking out against Australia's deportation policy. 

Peters lashed out at Peter Dutton, Australian Home Affairs Minister, who led a 2014 law change that meant Kiwis deemed "not of good character" could be sent back, many with little connection to New Zealand. 

"When you send back people who have been in Australia since year one or year two, you've lost the plot," Peters, the Foreign Minister, told ABC Radio. 

His comments come after Dutton criticised Ardern for publicly speaking out against Australia's deportation policy during a joint press conference on Friday with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. 

Dutton suggested that Ardern made the comments because she's heading into an election campaign, and he said he had no regrets about the thousands of Kiwi visas Australia had cancelled. 

He told Sky News Australia: "New Zealand is obviously in an electoral cycle at the moment."

Peters pointed to the March 15 Christchurch terror attack in 2019, highlighting to ABC Radio how the accused gunman is an Australian citizen. 

"We had a mass murderer come to this country from Australia. Did we make a song and dance with Australia about that?" Peters said. 

"It was the worst tragedy we've ever had, 51 people lost their lives... far worse than Port Arthur. And nobody in my country sought to abuse Australia about that."

Ardern had a stern message for the Australian Prime Minister on Friday: "Do not deport your people and your problems."

The Prime Minister said Australia is "well within its rights to deport individuals who break your laws" and that New Zealand "does the same".

But she said she had heard countless cases of individuals "who, on any common sense test, identify as Australians" but have been forced to make New Zealand home. 

Morrison said during the press conference that Australia still has no intention of changing the policy, despite discussing it with Ardern. 

"We can't have two classes of citizens in Australia... anyone else who doesn't hold the title of citizen in Australia does not get a special deal." 

Ardern said New Zealand will continue to maintain rights for Australians in New Zealand.

"We do not wish to have a race to the bottom and we remain confident that by continuing to work together, we will find solutions that reaffirm just how important this relationship is to us."

Australia's 2014 policy has most recently returned to the spotlight in New Zealand as figures from the police show gang numbers increasing across the country. 

Figures released on Tuesday show the number of patched and prospect gang members has increased by more than 31 percent since October 2017, reaching 7027 as of December 2019.

The deportees from Australia are nicknamed '501s' because of the law change led by Dutton.