Anthony Albanese confident in recent 501 changes, not considering retrospective policy

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says his Government has no plans for a retrospective law change to assist 501 deportees already sent back to New Zealand.

Newshub first revealed in January that the Albanese Government had signed off a major set of changes meaning its Department of Home Affairs must consider the length of time someone has lived in Australia before deciding whether to deport them.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has welcomed the move, saying on Tuesday that it is a "sign that the Australian Government has taken on-board the concerns that we have raised".

The deportation of New Zealanders in Australia under Section 501 of the Australian Migration Act has long been a controversial issue for trans-Tasman relations. 

It has angered New Zealand as it led to individuals with very little connection to Aotearoa being sent back here after having their visas cancelled on character grounds. When back in New Zealand, some of the so-called 501 deportees have been involved in crime or have little support networks.

The policy was guarded by the former Australian Coalition Government. However, after the change of Government to Labor last year, Albanese signalled he was open to slight changes.

Albanese met with New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Tuesday in Canberra. It is Hipkins' first international trip since taking the top job in late January and the pair held a joint press conference after a meeting.

When asked by Newshub, Albanese said he wouldn't consider a policy to retrospectively undo the damage caused by sending people back to New Zealand with little to no connection there.

He said making changes to the 501 policy was based on "common sense". 

"We retained Section 501, deportation, the capacity to cancel visas and remove people who pose a risk to the community," he said.

"What's changed is we will have a common sense approach and bear in mind what a person's ties are to Australia when assessing these cases. That is common sense. 

"There's a big distinction between someone who comes to Australia either as a teen or an adult and commits offences and someone who has zero connection back in New Zealand and might have come here as an infant."

He said he spoke about the issue with Hipkins during their Tuesday meeting and believed his Government has "got the response right".

PM Hipkins and PM Albanese.
PM Hipkins and PM Albanese. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Hipkins said he acknowledged "the changes that Australia has recently made and we welcome those".

"They are common sense changes and I think encouraging developments," he said.

Earlier in the press conference, Hipkins said matters around deportations and Kiwis' rights in Australia were "complex issues". 

"I do want to acknowledge and applaud the positive progress that's been made in that regard over the last year and we'll look forward to continuing to work on those issues."

Later, when speaking to New Zealand media, Hipkins said he expects more conversations on the issue.

"The position that Jacinda Ardern set out is still the New Zealand position and so we will continue to raise that as an issue. We'll continue to push for improvements."

The new 501 directive by the Australian Government will come into effect on March 3. As well as the length of time someone has spent in Australia, authorities will have to consider the impact on their family members in Australia should they be deported, with more weight being given to the ties their children have to the country. 

"Considerable weight should be given to the fact that a non-citizen has been ordinarily resident in Australia during and since their formative year, regardless of when their offending and level of that offending began."

But if the individual poses a risk to the Australian community, their visa can still be cancelled.

Albanese promised last year to apply a "common sense" approach to the 501 issue after discussions with then-New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern consistently brought the issue up with former Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison but got nowhere. She famously said Australia shouldn't "deport your people and your problems" while standing beside him and called the policy "corrosive" to the two countries' relationship.

The Australian Liberal Party, now in Opposition, has raised concerns about the changes. 

"The Labor Government need to be upfront with the Australian people," said Liberals immigration spokesperson Dan Tehan. "What is the length of time that a New Zealand citizen has to live in the country to qualify to remain here after they commit a crime?"

Another point he wanted to be clarified was what crimes "a New Zealand citizen can commit and still remain in Australia". 

"The Coalition was very very clear, if you are not an Australian citizen and you commit a serious crime in Australia then you forfeit your privilege to live here."

Newshub revealed last year that 501s have been convicted of more than 8000 offences in New Zealand since 2015.